FAST (Free Ad-supported Streaming Television) services are rapidly growing in popularity around the world. In our new global study, we explored the reasons why viewers are embracing FAST platforms, what makes FAST unique, and how users feel about advertising on FAST services.

Spanning both quantitative and qualitative research, we surveyed more than 5,000 consumers ages 18-64 and interviewed across eight markets, including Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US.

We found that FAST services are growing rapidly for a few key reasons — they’re simple to use and take the stress out of deciding what to watch, they give users a sense of uplift throughout the day, and they provide an opportunity to explore from the comfort of home. Ultimately, they address viewers’ needs in a unique way that complements other services.

FAST services also represent a growing opportunity for advertisers, with users who are open to new content and to messages from brands across all categories.

Here are key findings from this study, along with a video that tells this story in our respondents’ voices:

For Consumers, TV Addresses 8 Broad Needs

Watching TV addresses multiple needs for consumers. To better understand the landscape of different TV platforms and services and the role they play in people’s lives, we have identified 8 broad need states that viewers watch content to satisfy:

  • Comfort. Viewers are looking for some “me” time, to de-stress through familiar content. They address this need through a variety of content, watching in multiple locations (including their bedroom), usually alone. This need is present in 47% of viewing occasions – and is the most common one across all markets and demographics surveyed.
  • Uplift. Viewers are looking to feel refreshed and revitalized, or to brighten their mood. They address this need with comedy shows and movies, watch anywhere they can, often with others. This need is present in 34% of viewing occasions.
  • Immersion. Viewers are in a high attention state and absorbed in a show they enjoy. They turn to drama (shows and movies) to address this need, usually on their living room TV set, often watching with others. This need is present in 31% of viewing occasions.
  • External connection.Viewers are aiming to get up to speed or experience something at same time as others. They address this need with live content, such as sports and news, watch in a variety of locations, typically with other people. This need is present in 17% of viewing occasions.
  • Routine. Viewers are in a habit, doing something to follow their usual routine. Soaps and news are a common choice for addressing this need, typically viewing while alone at home. This need is present in 14% of viewing occasions.
  • Explore. Viewers are trying to broaden their horizons, looking to explore or try something new. They often turn to documentaries and science/nature content to address this need, watching with others in a variety of locations. This need is present in 14% of viewing occasions.
  • Togetherness. Viewers are looking to spend quality time with others – often by watching family movies, usually on their living room TV set together with their families. This need is present in 12% of viewing occasions.
  • Distract. Viewers are looking for background noise or ambience. Home and garden content is a common choice, and viewers watch in a variety of locations, often while alone. This need is present in 8% of viewing occasions.

The Rise of FAST Services

We looked at different TV services and the needs they address – for example, Linear TV stands out for meeting the need for Routine and SVOD is strong for delivering Immersion and Togetherness.

This research also revealed what may be fueling the rise of FAST services, a rapidly growing type of streaming service that offers linear channels of television programming. Some resemble cable-style specialty channels, while other channels focus on a single, long-running program or media franchise. Pluto TV was one of the first global FAST services – and is among the largest.

We found that more than other types of TV services, FAST services have a particular capacity to address several consumer needs – to Uplift, Explore, and Distract.

The Unique Role of FAST

What do FAST users think of their experience with this type of service?

FAST services give users a break, a reward, a chance to reset and recharge. Not only do 78% of FAST users agree that “it gives me a break or a reward during my day,” they are 1.5 times more likely than users of other services to agree that “it gives me a boost, re-energizes me.”

Throughout the day, FAST services function as a companion to users. Two-thirds of users (67%) agree that “it’s like a friend, it keeps me going throughout the day.”

Users appreciate that FAST services offer compelling content for any occasion. In fact, 78% agree that “whatever my mood, there’s always something to watch.”

FAST services succeed at satisfying users’ broad interests, with 80% agreeing that “it’s a good place to find niche content I’m into.” FAST users engage with more types of content — an average of 3.3 genres in a typical occasion, compared with 2.4 genres for non-FAST users.

In the end, most FAST users are amazed at the quality and quantity of content available. More than 8 in 10 agree that they are “surprised at the amount of content you can watch for free on it” and agree that “it proves that good quality content can be accessed for free.”

FAST Services Feel Easy

In a complex world, FAST services succeed at offering ease of use. Discovering new content is simple – 81% of FAST users agree that they “don’t stress over what to watch on it” and 80% agree that FAST “makes it easy to find shows to watch.” There’s no effort involved, with 71% of users agreeing that “I love that it’s just ‘on’ – I don’t need to think about what to watch.”

Overall, 79% of users agree that “it’s consistently high quality” and 64% agree that “there’s no other source like it.”

Users Accept Ads as Part of the FAST Experience

Advertising is what makes FAST services free – and users see ads as a worthy trade-off for a service they value, with 69% of users agreeing that “the ads on FAST are part of the overall viewing experience.”

Users welcome advertising from all brands and industries on FAST. Across all categories, at least 70% of users say they would “enjoy or tolerate” seeing ads on FAST services, with movies (91%), tech/electronics (86%), and TV networks/shows (85%) as the most popular.

FAST users don’t find the ad load to be disruptive to their viewing enjoyment – 3 out of 4 are “happy with the amount of advertising on FAST services” and agree that “the ad load is the same as or lower than on other services.”