The FAST and the SWIFT: Emerging Media Strategies Shaping the Future of Entertainment

A family dance party with Taylor Swift on FAST

Free Ad-Supported Television (FAST) and creatives like Taylor Swift are helping drive technology-enabled revenue models disrupting the Media Majors.

Until the internet, and Netflix, media companies were media companies and tech companies were not. Distribution of content required expensive, highly-sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure, complex regulatory licensing and proprietary commercial distribution networks. Only a few highly-capitalised companies could operate in that environment. Those companies have enjoyed near-monopolies in the delivery of news, information and entertainment to nearly everyone. That system enabled film studios and broadcast television networks to become some of the largest and wealthiest publicly-listed corporate conglomerates on the planet.

Twenty years ago, the ability to convert entertainment audiences into subscribers transformed Netflix from a technology company and into the global market leader in content distribution. Every Media Major, from Disney to Comcast has since restructured themselves into a version of Netflix in order to compete with it. Internationally, the adoption of the subscriber-based streaming distribution model by media conglomerates has been the dominant business strategy in an increasingly globalised, inter-connected media market.

The key to sustaining that highly lucrative system for nearly a century included predatory licensing arrangements with content creators who typically received the smallest portion of the industry’s revenue streams.

Times have changed.

The intervention of a global pandemic, and the end of relatively free debt-capital from quantitative easing, has accelerated momentum within M&E toward a fully digital entertainment ecosystem. This ecosystem is driven by increased penetration of broadband internet across all international media markets. With an estimated 5.6 billion internet users around the world, the distribution of entertainment content has become easier, cheaper and much more accessible.


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Today, anyone with an internet connection and a mobile phone can produce entertainment content and distribute it to hundreds of millions of fans. Many are doing just that, and the legacy media conglomerates are feeling it.

An emerging front in the “streaming wars” has introduced a new dynamic into the battle for media dominance, with Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) platforms and other innovative content distribution strategies leading the charge. This era, marked by the proliferation of direct to consumer content distribution underscores a pivotal transformation in how content is monetised and valued. At the heart of this transformation are two significant phenomena: the burgeoning growth of FAST platforms and the commercial success of Taylor Swift’s intellectual property rights strategy.

Ad-Supported Streaming Growth

Similar in concept to public access television that once allowed smaller or specialised programmers to air niche content over cable TV networks, the internet has lowered barriers to entry for independent content creators. At its most basic level, anyone can operate a streaming TV channel from any website or downloadable App that allows an internet-connected audience to view streaming video content.

Many have now attracted the attention of advertisers in search of more direct connection to consumers than the programmatic advertising services of Google, Facebook and YouTube allow. With this cost-effective, internet-based version of traditional linear television, the FAST channel has emerged.

Less than a year ago, Barron’s journalist Eric Savltz made the argument in favour of FAST in a succinct paragraph about the new lease on life FAST channels provide for the over 400 episodes of Bob Ross’ the Joy of Painting.

He wrote, “Ross died in 1995, but the magic of a growing streaming TV phenomena called FAST channels has brought Ross back to TV at no cost – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are 23 streaming services that offer versions of the Bob Ross channel via smartphones, TVs, or laptops, together generating 15 million viewers a month, according to American Public Television, which handles syndication of the show. That’s more than quadruple the audience for the finale of Succession, the most-watched episode ever in the series about a struggling media empire.”

According to data from Statista, the market for FAST channel content and audiences is expected to reach revenues of US$9.1 billion this year and to grow at a rate of 9.3% CAGR until 2027. The result is an estimated US$11.83 billion in advertising revenues to FAST platforms and channels by 2028.


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Until this year, FAST channels have proliferated most rapidly in the United States, which will account for an estimated US$7.75 billion in 2024 revenues. Europe is now also getting into the FAST game.  Sony Pictures, for example, is reported to be launching 50 new FAST channels across Europe this year to further monetise its back catalogue of content. Separate channels will stream programmed seasons of Seinfeld, Breaking Bad and Bewitched to European audiences.

Sony will stream these channels over its own Sony One Fast platform, which will also provide free genre-focused channels for television shows such as Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den in addition to films such as Jerry Maquire and District 9.

As down-stream pressure on the subscription streaming distribution model increases, a significant shift to ad-supported formats is likely to accelerate. This transition, driven by consumer demand for more accessible and economically efficient content along with advertisers’ demand for greater access to the consumers, has propelled FAST platforms such Freevee, Pluto TV, and Tubi to the forefront of commercial evolution in M&E.  

The volume of content that can be made available by relatively inexpensive yet highly efficient FAST channels, whether over a platform or independently, is offering renewed revenues for back catalogues like Sony’s. But the accessibility and technical qualities of FAST channel distribution offers a fresh perspective on traditionally broadcast-exclusive content in the form of live events such as professional sport and, increasingly, live music concerts.

Swift’s Cinematic Vision: A Blueprint for Future Performance

Taylor Swift’s strategic move to re-record her music and take ownership of the commercial value in her fans was not the first example of an artist asserting more control over their art. But timing matters. As digital music platforms such as iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music increased the efficiency of commercial streaming over an increasingly international and mobile internet, the power of legacy music distribution networks eroded.

Talyor Swift was in the right place, at the right time and knew what to do about it.

Her move to secure the value in her re-recorded music through the highly-successful Eras Tour has generated a new term: Swiftonomics. Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is the first live concert series to breach the US$1 billion gross revenues threshold, which it did during the first eight months of the tour (Nov 17, 2022 – Nov. 15, 2023) according to a report published by Pollstar.

The Eras Tour is expected to conclude in December of this year. Its economic impact has been described as geopolitical in nature, being coined “Taylonomics” by the Wall Street Journal. The US Federal Reserve included mention of Taylor Swift’s impact on the US Economy in the Fed’s July 2023 Beige Book.

Widely reported analysis by QuestionPro has estimated that the economic impact of the Eras Tour in the US alone was US$5 billion in 2023. According to the US Travel Association, that number could actually be has high as US$10 billion when factoring in all of fans and friends of fans that did not actually get inside the concert venues.

Internationally, the effect of Taylor Swift’s concerts is no less impressive. Diplomatic tension has even erupted over how Singapore’s government tempted the Eras Tour away from other regional competitors, hoovering up an increase in economic impact from increased tourism.

However, it is the decision to blend the live performance experience with cinematic distribution through the self-produced Eras Tour Film that represents a groundbreaking development in digital entertainment.

This strategy of simultaneous live tour and concert-movie has not only expanded Swift’s global fanbase but has also served as a catalyst for reimagining artist-audience engagement. As of April 5, 2024, Taylor Swift: the Eras Tour concert movie has raked in US$261.7 million in global box office receipts. According to data from Statista, it is the “highest-grossing concert movie ever made.”

The success of the Eras Tour Film highlights the potential of experiential cinema to draw audiences into communal, immersive experiences, setting a precedent for future content distribution strategies​​.


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No surprisingly, the Eras Tour Film is now available to stream on Netflix. It will not take long for it, and other concert performances, to find their way onto a dedicated FAST Channel.

As digital entertainment continues to evolve, Swift’s model emphasizes the importance of direct-to-consumer distribution channels. This shift allows artists and creators to maintain greater control over their work while forging deeper connections with their audiences.

Convergence

The intersection of FAST platforms and concert cinema experiences opens new avenues for enriching the digital entertainment ecosystem. By incorporating concert films and other live event content, such as sport, FAST channels can significantly enhance audience engagement and unlock new revenue streams. This synergy not only capitalises on the growing demand for unique, exclusive content but also marks a significant evolution in the Media & Entertainment industry​​.

Addressing the logistical and licensing complexities associated with integrating live performance and sporting events into FAST channel offerings is crucial. Platforms and creators must navigate these challenges collaboratively, ensuring that content rights, revenue models and quality standards are aligned with audience expectations.

The fusion of digital streams with live performances embodies an emerging frontier in entertainment, offering audiences an unparalleled blend of convenience and immersive engagement. This convergence is poised to redefine content production, distribution, and marketing strategies across the industry, continuing a trend in which technology enables direct to consumer distribution of entertainment content.

Embracing this hybrid model of “media-tech” includes the need to overcome logistical, technical and rights management hurdles. Success will require a commitment to delivering seamless viewer experiences, adapting to evolving digital rights landscapes and crafting scalable, profitable content models that embrace both advertisers and audiences alike.

The ongoing development of FAST platforms and pioneering distribution strategies exemplified by Taylor Swift: the Eras Tour represent more than just tactical shifts in the streaming wars. They signal a profound transformation within the digital entertainment industry, triggering new paradigms of engagement, monetisation and content value.

It took the Media Majors nearly a century to establish distribution infrastructure that secured their exclusive rights to generate money from both consumer audiences and the advertisers who needed access to them. A ubiquitous global internet has now levelled the playing field dramatically, leaving legacy media companies with a combination of commercial experience and branding as the last remaining strategic advantages in a highly competitive marketplace. Commercial power has now dramatically shifted in favour of creatives (as opposed to the distributors) and to the consumer audiences that crave ever-more of their content. Media execs,  entrepreneurs and professional investors are taking note.

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