Free Is Very Pro-Consumer


There’s a relatively new acronym in the media business: FAST. It stands for Free Advertiser-supported Streaming Television. For all practical purposes, FAST is good, old-fashioned broadcast television delivered over the public internet (as opposed to via an antenna or cable or satellite). In the not-so-distant past, this kind of delivery was called “over the top” or OTT, but the defining differences are that FAST is free (except for the cost of your internet access), and the programs are scheduled at specific times, exactly the same way linear, broadcast TV channels are scheduled. Does it matter how the signal is delivered to consumers? Think about this…

The Internet Is a Hot Mess

Fraud, viewability, and brand safety are important to advertisers. Big-money advertisers are mostly publicly traded companies, or they are big enough to have cultural impact when they do something notable (like place their ads next to hate speech or questionable content). In a perfect world, objectionable content (from the advertisers’ point of view) would be easy to filter out, and ads would be placed adjacent to “advertiser-approved” content. This sounds simple to achieve Clearly it isn’t, because online advertising is a hot mess. Fraud, viewability (was the ad you were charged for actually seen by a live person who was in your selected target audience?), and brand safety (adjacency to objectionable content) are still massive problems, and there are no signs that the problems are closer to being solved at scale.

Before you send me an email or start hating on me for saying that the vast majority of ad-supported websites are cesspools and their user experiences suck, I want you to know that I know that this is a general statement and does not apply to absolutely every website and app, just to the vast majority. Even some of the most mainstream sites bombard users with obnoxious pop-ups, retargeted fodder, page takeovers, broken JavaScript tricks that obscure parts of paragraphs, hidden buttons for “next page,” and on and on. You know who you are. You have ruined the internet, and you do not deserve the horribly manufactured pageviews you earn!

It is no surprise that big advertisers and the media agencies that place these ads are in a constant battle to correct these issues. It is also no surprise that the efficacy of these ads is also highly questionable. I don’t have time to go into just how messed up digital advertising and measurement truly are. Suffice it to say that everyone in the business is aware of the problem (if not the scope and size).

Social Selling Is Highly Suspect

A close cousin to online advertising is social selling. For this argument, you can add influencer marketing and the full array of social media–empowered advertising. If the internet is a hot mess, there are no printable words for the state of social selling. Lies, lies, and the lying liars who tell them. Sure, there are some who are great at social selling. Yes, there are a few celebrities who are magical and wonderful and fantastic and actually business-like in their offerings. But the efficacy of the entire enterprise has fallen to new lows, and for a large regional or national advertiser, social simply does not drive velocity at retail at a sustainable price, and it does not build brand loyalty, and it comes with the added risk of an influencer doing something exceedingly damaging to any brand at any time without warning.

Linear TV: Paying More for Less

TV is not dead (it’s funny how many people say it is). It’s not even mostly dead (no need to call Miracle Max). But advertisers will spend more money to reach fewer people than ever. This is not an opinion; it’s a fact. Fewer people watch broadcast, linear TV than ever. Ratings (the measure of television audience size) have been declining for years. They will continue to do so. Here’s a nice list of TV ratings from 1949–2014 to help you understand the historical trend. Here’s a site with current Nielsen info to drive home my point. Higher CPMs (cost per thousand viewers) are OK if there are enough viewers to drive velocity for your goods and services. But what if there aren’t?

FAST to the Rescue

Streaming is all the rage. Connected TVs are the only growing category of connected devices used for video viewership. Yes, people are buying smart TVs and hooking up streaming services at a record pace. Consumers must have internet access, so the hurdle is gone. Consumers most likely have one or two streaming services – but many cannot afford more. Enter FAST. Free is very pro-consumer, so it’s easy to understand how and why it is growing, um… fast.

FAST offers brand safety, viewability, and zero fraud. This is not only pro-consumer, it’s pro-advertisers. FAST offers a “big bucket” of programming for free. Americans love an “all you can eat” buffet. Did I mention FAST is free? In a world where inflation is challenging every purchase, here is a way to enter into a very specific, well-understood contract with content providers. “You give me free, high-quality content, and I’ll watch the advertisements that support your ability to provide the service.”

For advertisers, FAST offers new levels of data-gathering, which greatly increases their ability to target and customize user experiences. And in the vast majority of cases, the data are more robust and more accurate than other forms of digital or online advertising.

Everything Old Is New Again

Will FAST become bigger than broadcast TV or replace it? Not anytime soon. But FAST services are well positioned to enjoy a very profitable future. As people continue to cut the cord and cull their streaming services, FAST (good, old-fashioned linear TV programming distributed over the public internet) looks like a big winner.

Which raises these questions: Is this just an easy way for stuck-in-the-mud media planners to continue to enjoy their mud baths? Are there social selling channels that perform way better at scale but just take more time to plan and buy? Are there super-effective online opportunities that would outperform all of the above but actually require media planners and buyers to work? Is the fast success of FAST simply the inertial force of a luddite media business? My answer is an emphatic yes! What’s yours?

FAST Services Include:

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit


PreviousInstagram's Power Over Crypto NextAmazon Mapping Your Life

Get Briefed Every Day!

Subscribe to my daily newsletter featuring current events and the top stories in technology, media, and marketing.