The Cost Of Streaming Attention: What Is The Value Of Free 'Channels'?

FAST streaming platforms continue to embolden the assigned industry moniker abbreviation: It's a fast-growing business.

Many consumers can sit up and take notice of the offering of "free live TV channels."  

The word "free" that is associated with this platform certainly has a lot to do with it. 

But it may be a simple diversionary marketing ploy. For example, what exactly is being offered for free? 

Drilling down, free ad-supported platforms are pretty much what they say they are -- they offer a lot of free content. 

But many consumers can sit up and take notice of the offering of "free live TV channels."

Old-school consumer behavior means buying a traditional cable TV network bundle and being promised around 100 or 200 channels for $80 to $100 a month.  Long ago that may have sounded like a good deal. 



Now, in the streaming world, FAST channels (Free Advertising Supported Television) have what seems like a better consumer financial equation -- thousands of free channels. For example, under the “Roku Channel” site there are 300 free channels, while with  Tubi TV there are 250 freebies and Pluto TV has more than 250 free channels.

According to Nielsen Gracenote Video Data, there are more than 1,050 of these FAST Channels overall now available in the U.S. and over 1,400 individual FAST channels in its database.

Amazon Freevee recently added 12 free channels from NBCU, while Warner Bros. Discovery and MGM recently inked a deal sending 34 channels to Freevee. 

How can any consumer say no to free TV -- even if they are also paying for around $10 to $15 a month each for Netflix, Disney+, Max, and/or say AMC+?

Looking closely, one needs to define exactly what a “channel” is. 

In the free streaming world, “channels” can be more likely  focused around “shows” -- or micro-niche segments of shows. In the WBD deal, for example, there are channels named “Cake Boss” and “Say Yes To The Dress”-- names of shows on cable TV network Food Network and TLC, respectively.

Still free? Maybe we really need a better word.

The cost of home broadband can range from $30 to $50 or more. And consumers still have to pay up -- in terms of time -- when it comes to all that advertising and marketing interruption. 

Critics may argue that traditional cable TV networks at times may look like what these streamers have become.

After all, how does this differ from the 12 to 15 hours of nonstop, back-to-back rerun airings of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on USA Network on weekdays. What about the long non-stop prime-time scheduling of the video clips show “Ridiculousness” on MTV?

Among the other factors to consider, many of these free streaming services offer tons of older library TV and movie products -- or what might be defined as somewhat lower value to many consumers.

Still, there may be some value here for hard-pressed TV advertisers looking for fading reach.

Is everything new -- or just old again in this new TV/streaming world? Nothing in this business ever really goes away.

This column was previously published in TV Watch on September 8, 2023.

2 comments about "The Cost Of Streaming Attention: What Is The Value Of Free 'Channels'?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 27, 2023 at 8:28 a.m.

    Wayne, I wouldn't be surprised if  there will soon be 500,000 mini-FAST channels with most hosts offering the eager viewers their choice of 10,000  to choose from. The only problem is that the average viewer will devote only about an hour per day to all of the FASTs combined---and that simply isn't enough viewing to support more thana few of these services. So, obviously, a big shakeout is in store. Whether this will be a great loss to advertisers is debatable. After all most FASTs are programmed more or less like a typical independent TV station and as we have seen , even when the average viewer was "watching" five hours per day of linear TV fare there wasn't enough viewing left---after the network stations and cable took their share---to support more than two or three indies per market.

  2. Ben B from Retired, December 28, 2023 at 9:18 p.m.

    TNBC fast channel airs the same show for a week then they change it this week is Punky next week is Weird Science etc. I agree with Ed about Fast channels and that there will be to many services for them and too niche as well.

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