As of 2021’s fourth quarter, 18% of U.S. households used at least one free, ad-supported TV service (FAST) — more than double Q4 2020’s 8% penetration, according to the most recent data from Hub Entertainment Research.
In Q4 alone, FAST penetration increased by 4.9 percentage points, making it the fastest-growing streaming tier.
In fact, it’s now nearly the size of ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD), which has a household penetration of 24%, according to the researcher.
Within FASTs, Peacock, IMDB TV, Tubi and The Roku Channel drew the greatest shares of new users in Q4 — collectively accounting for 79% of all new FAST users in the period.
Given human nature, and the number of new options available, it’s not surprising that even within FASTs, viewers are becoming more demanding.
Amount of original content, quality of shows available and value for money were all found to be exerting more influence in driving sign-ups. In addition, the variety of classic films available, in which FASTs over-index, is losing relative importance.
Furthermore, signing up for specific content now only accounts for 13% of new sign-ups/uses — down from 20% in Q4 20. This indicates that consumers expect individual FASTs to deliver a wider range and catalog of content, according to Hub.
But those expectations have been driven in part by FAST platforms’ own performance.
For instance, satisfaction rates both for the amount of original content and quality of shows were up significantly in Q4 2021 compared to Q3 2021.
In Q4, FASTs' average Net Promoter Score (NPS), the customer loyalty metric, was up three points, to 32. In addition, FASTs were the only tier to see an improvement of NPS in the quarter and the only tier not to see an increase in planned cancellations heading into Q1 2022.
“Ease of use and value are still the number one and number two drivers of satisfaction, but we can expect FAST users to increasingly expect more beyond a navigable interface in order to stay engaged,” Hub reports.
“For example, 25% of Roku subscribers are satisfied with the amount of original content — the highest of any FAST platform — and 19% are satisfied with the number of new release films, which is in line with paid competitors Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.”
A key positive indicator for continued growth of FASTs (and perhaps AVODs) is that in overall streaming, being able to watch without ads is a declining driver of sign-ups.
“If FAST continues its content-forward approach, expect the category to chip away at screen time of paid competitors and potentially even drive churn of paid competitors,” Hub observes.