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FAST and Curious: The Free Ad-Supported TV Phenomenon Taking Over Streaming

Netflix’s dive into the ad-infested waters isn’t just a splash—it’s a cannonball that’s sent waves through the SVOD sea. In a landscape where “subscriber growth” was the chant, the major players are now humming a different tune: advertising tiers. This shift is more than just a fad. 

The year 2023 in media was less a rollercoaster and more a rocket ride to the moon—without a clear landing strategy. WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes turned studios into frantic chefs in a kitchen where half the ingredients are missing. This chaos was the backdrop to the intensifying streaming wars.

Enter the age of FAST—free ad-supported streaming TV. As subscription costs skyrocket, viewers are hunting for cheaper thrills. Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi, Amazon’s Freevee, and Peacock’s free tier are the new cool kids on the block. Over half of viewers are tuning in. Freevee’s ‘Jury Duty’ became a streaming Cinderella story, and Tubi is upping its game with more originals to seduce subscribers.

Welcome to the Great Rebundling. HBO Max and Discovery+ merged to form ‘Max’, a move akin to two superheroes joining forces. Paramount threw in its hat with Paramount+ and Showtime. Disney, not one to be left behind, mashed up Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ into a one-app wonder. There’s talk of Apple and Paramount cozying up for a bundle, and Verizon’s offering a cut-price Netflix and Max deal. It’s like the streaming world decided to play musical chairs, but with subscription services.

Sports on streaming is now big business. A chunky 29% of viewers are catching sports on platforms like Prime Video. YouTube TV scored NFL’s Sunday Ticket for a cool $2 billion, elbowing out Disney, Amazon, and Apple. Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football saw a viewership uptick of 25%. Netflix is set to stream a tennis face-off between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, while Disney’s planning a solo ESPN streaming app for 2025. It’s like traditional TV sports and streaming had a baby, and it’s athletic and tech-savvy.

Studios are now eyeing social media as the new Wild West of content distribution. Full-length episodes and movies are popping up on platforms like TikTok and Twitter. Peacock tested the waters with ‘Killing It’ on TikTok, and Paramount dropped ‘Mean Girls’ there too, raking in millions of views. It’s the digital equivalent of finding a dollar in your old jeans, but for content.

Reruns are making a comeback, proving that everything old can be new again. ‘The Office’, ‘Friends’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Breaking Bad’ remain the comfort food of streaming. Nickelodeon’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ and the CW’s ‘Riverdale’ and ‘All-American’ found new life on Netflix. USA Network’s ‘Suits’ hit the streaming jackpot after Netflix licensing. It’s like rediscovering your old mixtape and realizing it’s still awesome.

Films are getting a second act as limited series. ‘BlackBerry’ transformed from a feature film to a three-part series. Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ morphed into ‘Faraway Downs’ on Hulu, with extra footage and plot twists. It’s like those movies went into a chrysalis and emerged as binge-worthy butterflies.

Netflix’s 15 million monthly users on its ad plan is more than a statistic; it’s a trend. They’re experimenting with “binge ads” and sponsorships for hits like ‘The Crown’. Netflix is a streaming giant but a minnow in CTV ad revenues. It’s like Goliath decided to sell lemonade on the side.

Disney+ and Amazon are joining the ad party. Disney+ even launched programmatic ad inventory. Apple’s eyeing a bigger slice of the ad pie for Apple TV+. It’s a club everyone wants to join.

Antenna’s subscriber categories—Ad Avoiders, Ad Takers, Ad Managers, and Ad Oblivious—paint a picture of a viewer base as diverse as a bag of mixed nuts. The spread of ad-supported plans reveals a streaming landscape as varied as a flea market.

As streaming grows up, platforms are wrestling with the ad-supported versus ad-free quandary. Will the “Ad Manager” trend, where viewers toggle between ad-loaded and pristine experiences, become the new normal? In the coming years, defining advertising’s role in the streaming saga is the cliffhanger we’re all waiting to see resolved. The story of streaming and ads isn’t just evolving; it’s a saga with more plot twists than a telenovela.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattinhttp://www.adotat.com
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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