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Reaching the pot of gold at the end of the FAST rainbow


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Nick Pinks, co-founder and CEO of Covatic, discusses how the promise of FAST channels can be realised - turning unreachable audiences into premium, highly addressable inventory

The TV and video space is changing. The reliance on linear TV is slowly declining – even with older audiences – as the popularity of streaming rises across all demographics. While the potential of connected TV (CTV) has already been recognised by much of the advertising industry, free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels are now finding themselves in the spotlight.

Already watched by 15% of online viewers, FAST channel revenue is expected to quadruple in the next four years in the UK alone and is poised to account for nearly 20% of the country’s premium online ad-supported video market by 2027. The reason for this growth is clear; FAST offers advertisers access to large audiences against recognisable, linear TV-type content. 

However, current limitations around addressability mean these channels have benefits everyone can see but few can actually reach. How does FAST turn its promise into tangible reward – so that the rainbow of opportunity leads to a pot of advertising gold?

The FAST opportunity

FAST platforms can host both FAST channels – which air scheduled programming with commercial breaks in between – as well as on-demand content available to stream whenever the user wishes; combining the best of linear and digital TV. Because it is free to watch, FAST attracts high volumes of audiences akin to broadcasting viewership figures, with one significant difference. 

Traditional linear TV is unidirectional, which means information is only sent from the provider/broadcaster to the TV. There is no way of identifying specific viewers, so advertising is never personalised to the individual but rather aimed at the masses. FAST runs on an app through an IP address, enabling bidirectional traffic flow. Information is sent to the app, and can also be sent back. This changes the game completely, because FAST providers can, in theory, receive information to deliver targeted ads based on the viewer’s preferences and habits. 

The UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, ITV, has already recognised the potential of these platforms. Having relaunched its online service as part of a strategy to “supercharge streaming”, it has positioned the rebranded ITVX as a content destination rather than just a catch-up service, and included up to 20 dedicated FAST channels in its offering. In addition, the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ITV have announced a joint CTV offering called Freely, set to launch in 2024, to rival established FAST channels.

The FAST challenge

The architecture and regulations around FAST platforms create a number of issues when it comes to addressability. Often content is delivered on an app that does not require users to log in before tuning into their favourite shows, which means advertisers don’t always have the right data to inform their targeting strategies. This is an issue already plaguing CTV more widely, with users declining to share their data when creating accounts. 

Even if users consent to share their data with their CTV provider, they would still not have authorisation to share it with FAST providers; and even if they were, advertisers would still not know who is watching TV at any given moment – especially if users create one single account for the entire household and never log out. 

With consumers going out of their way to protect their digital activity, relying on their willingness to share their personal data to support targeted advertising seems a futile strategy for marketers. FAST audiences are abundant, but without granular addressability, the pot of gold remains visible yet out of reach. Marketers must therefore turn to the device, not the user.

Solving addressability FAST

The best way to solve FAST’s addressability issues is through on-device processing technology, which looks at device activity beyond the apps that host FAST channels. Initially, the technology gathers first-party data – what programmes are being watched, for how long, and at what times of the day – to create profile maps.  

In doing so, advanced algorithms and machine learning models build advanced user cohorts based on activities and behaviours to understand further who viewers are and provide relevant insights to advertisers without actually sharing user data. Advertisers can then use these cohorts to understand whether a certain user watching TV is of interest for a campaign or not. 

For example, on-device technology may determine that in a particular household in the evening, the person viewing a FAST channel is likely to be a male in his early 30s, of a specified income bracket, and interested in buying a new car, among other relevant traits. This isn’t to say the user becomes ‘visible’ to advertisers. Any person in the household could be watching TV at any given time, but the technology identifies viewing patterns and trends to determine more accurately who could be in front of the screen. Instead of identifying the individual, on-device technology returns key information that identifies a high-value moment for an individual to be receptive to a particular campaign – in this case, a car ad.

This turns unreachable audiences into premium, highly addressable inventory. The individual is never identified, so there is no need to request permission to share data, since all processes happen locally in the user’s device. Ultimately, the insights enable brands to serve tailored, contextualised, and most importantly relevant content. 

Solving FAST’s addressability challenge unlocks a rich pool of new audiences for advertisers to target; particularly appealing when caution over ad budgets is forcing marketers to make the most out of every pound spent. Those who deploy the right technology to take advantage of the FAST opportunity now will expedite their journey to the pot of gold before the rainbow disappears. 

By Nick Pinks, CEO


Covatic helps online publishers, media companies and brands address the challenges they face balancing advertising ROI and consumer privacy.

Our platform gives them the ability to identify and address their entire audience without using cookies or personal identifiers. Publishers like Bauer, Sky, and Octave already work with Covatic to tap into previously unavailable advertising opportunities, allowing them to gain substantial new returns on advertising spend just months after partnering with us. 

Covatic. More Addressable. More Effective. More Private.

Posted on: Friday 15 December 2023