Best FAST Channel Playout System of 2022

Whether you are a traditional television broadcaster, a YouTube or Facebook Live channel entrepreneur or anyone or thing in between, the emergence for Free Ad-Support TV, or FAST channels, as a new way to reach the public has likely rocked your world.

 

FAST Streaming & Linear TV Streaming

FAST channels layer the well-understood concept of linear TV onto internet streaming. In other words, linear channels—those with a schedule of programs, commercials, promotions and public service announcements, such as what’s typically broadcast by any U.S. call letter TV station, and what has been called “appointment TV”—can be streamed by the public on their smart TVs and digital devices like smartphones and tablets.

The sudden rise of FAST streaming as a complement or alternative to traditional linear TV channels is easy to understand. It all boils down to money.

At the risk of oversimplification, people in droves are cutting the cord. One measure is the number of traditional U.S. pay-TV households. In other words, those that subscribe to cable or satellite TV or IPTV services.

New data from Parks Associates published in the research group’s “Video Services: State of the Market” report forecasts traditional pay-TV subscriptions will fall to 76.7 million in the United States, a whopping drop of more than 25% from 2014, when subscriptions reached their zenith.

Those people haven’t stopped watching TV; they’ve cut the cord and subscribed to streaming services like Netflix and are watching FAST channels, such as Peacock, Pluto and Vudu. Research from BroadbandSearch.net confirms the move. The organization has forecast U.S. cord cutters will climb to 55 million by the end of this year.

All of those eyeballs translate into a highly sought-after audience for advertisers, ad agencies and brands eager to sell products. For FAST channels, that means big revenue. In May 2022, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released its “2021 Video Ad Spend and 2022 Outlook” report that predicted Connected TV (CTV) ad spending will climb to $21.2 billion and that more than three-quarters of video ad buyers considered CTV to be a “must buy.”

 

The Award-Winning TVU Channel

At the recently concluded 2022 NAB Show, TVU Networks was recognized with a Best of Show Award from TVTech magazine for its TVU Channel, cloud-based scheduling and playout solution.

With TVU Channel, video entrepreneurs and broadcasters alike can easily create, manage and monetize a linear channel whether it’s a FAST channel, over-the-air TV channel that’s broadcast and delivered via cable, satellite and IPTV, or some combination of both.

TVU Channel is simple to use. In fact, anyone who can create a personal calendar with a tool like Google Calendar can schedule playout of a linear channel, including recorded programming, commercials, PSAs, promos, with ease. Users schedule ads and play them back with SCTE markers inserted in the playout schedule to trigger commercial breaks and playout ads.

The cloud-based solution makes it simple for users to break into scheduled programming for live reports, such as breaking news, automatically generate and insert closed captions, work remotely from anywhere with an internet connection and to syndicate distribution to multiple web, over-the-top and connected TV channel destinations as well as to traditional broadcast distribution channels.

TVU Networks offers two versions of its cloud-based linear channel scheduling and playout solution: TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus. The difference between the two comes down to cost and revenue generation.

 

TVU Channel Pricing & Monetization

TVU Channel is offered for a flat $1,950 monthly subscription fee. This subscription fee is waived for those selecting TVU Channel Plus. Instead of the subscription, TVU Channel Plus is offered as a 50/50 revenue share with TVU Networks. That share is the net of CDN costs and the revenue share with the connected TV/online video programmer platform(s) used for distribution. The revenue potential for channel publishers is $0.05/viewing hour.

Closely related is how TVU Channel Plus monetizes publishers’ channels. Those selecting TVU Channel Plus enter into agreements with third-party ad networks that take responsibility for selling commercial time on the publishers’ channels. Publishers simply schedule breaks, insert SCTE triggers into their program schedules and allow the ad networks to take it from there.

Those electing to use TVU Channel are completely responsible for advertising sales, management and scheduling. Of course, they keep 100 percent of the ad sales proceeds.

When it comes to capabilities, TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus are identical with two important exceptions. First, there is no monetization component to TVU Channel other than those of the channel publisher. Second, when it comes to distribution, TVU Channel includes all social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and others; TVU Channel also supports all connected TV and online video platforms.

 

FAST Channel Pain Points

Traditional linear TV channels have entire workflows and purpose-built technologies in place to create a program schedule, playout recorded programs, commercials and other content at precise times, integrate other elements like promos and PSAs and even switch to live programming, such as an evening local newscast or breaking story.

For TV broadcast stations, station groups and networks with decades or more of experience managing content,  building program schedules, playing it out and demonstrating to advertisers that commercials actually ran, the care and feeding of a FAST channel is second nature.

However, for video entrepreneurs –especially those who are experts in a particular area of interest, like cooking or car repair—the prospect of programming and playing out content 24/7 on a newly launched FAST Channel at best may seem daunting and at worst so overwhelming that interest in launching a channel quickly wanes.

Among the top pain points a video entrepreneur serious about a FAST channel launch is likely to face are (in no particular order):

  • Lack of time—Most small video producers creating content for distribution on a social media channel, such as Facebook Live or YouTube, are so busy preparing content, shooting shows, editing and uploading finished pieces that they simply lack the time to take on the perceived complication of programming and scheduling a FAST channel.
  • Too few staff—As a one-man-band or even with a barebones production crew, a video entrepreneur is likely to lack the personnel needed to create a 24/7 program schedule (or even a fraction of a ‘round-the-cloud schedule). Of course, that’s the first step. Someone must also attend to ingesting content and playing out programs, commercials and other content conforming to a schedule.
  • Non-existent sales force—For most, the whole reason to create a FAST channel is to generate revenue. Granted, for churches and educators that may not be a concern, but for everyone else producing revenue is one of the primary reasons to launch a FAST channel. Video entrepreneurs, however, are already stretched thin and likely do not have the salespeople, sales managers, accounts payable department and collections personnel in place to sell commercial time, bill and collect payments from advertisers.
  • Insufficient capital—Traditionally, playing out a linear video channel has required a significant capital investment in software and hardware to successfully playout hundreds or even thousands of individual pieces of content back to back, one after another for distribution. The video servers, traffic management systems, automation and other technology traditionally used to schedule and play a linear channel to air can cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars on the low end and well over a million on the high side of the scale.

Lack of technical expertise—A video entrepreneur might be skilled when it comes to shooting footage, lighting and micing a scene, on-screen delivery and a host of other things, but the idea of acquiring the perceived technical skill necessary to care and feed the playout automation and video servers needed to sustain a 24/7 FAST channel might seem like a bridge too far.

While each possible pain point might have at one time prevented a small business or a single video entrepreneur from launching a 24/7 FAST channel, times have changed. Thankfully, that has changed with the launch of TVU Networks’ TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus.

 

Broadcaster Pain Points

While the chain of technology, people and workflows needed to schedule and playout a linear channel is nothing new to TV broadcasters, adding additional channels, whether it’s a FAST channel that’s streamed via the internet or a digital subchannel—often called a “Dot Channel,” as in “.1,” “.2” etc., must be taken seriously because doing so can relieve some existing pain points and, if not done properly, can create others for broadcasters.

Among these pain points (in no particular order) are:

  • Automation End Of Life—Many TV stations rely on broadcast automation systems in their Master Control rooms that have reached their end of life. They are no longer supported by the vendor that sold the system, or that vendor has been acquired by another company that’s going in a different direction. Launching a new linear channel creates an opportunity to relieve this pain point if the broadcaster uses the rollout as the starting point on not only playing out the new channel but also as a chance to gain experience with new technology and a workflow that can be used down the road to replace the existing tech at its end of life.
  • Heavy CapEx Spend—Another pain point is the significant capital outlay broadcasters make to buy the “heavy iron” they once needed to playout a program schedule—everything from proprietary video servers to master control switchers and automation systems. Channel-in-a-box has lowered that outlay, but it’s still a capital expense and a tech resource that must be maintained.
  • Established Workflow—Stepping back a bit and looking at the overall workflow of scheduling a channel and making sure the video assets are in place for playout, as are the monitoring and automation needed to make sure programs, commercials and other content plays out as scheduled and to intervene when there is an anomaly, offers a glimpse of the complexity of putting a linear channel on air or streaming it as a FAST channel. Replacing that workflow with something new has the potential to cause disruptions that can impact the cash register—a pain point no broadcaster wishes to experience.
  • Timely Spin Ups and Downs—For all of the pain points and associated reasons already listed, the prospect of launching ad hoc channels—for instance, to keep viewers informed of a hurricane making landfall and traveling up the coast—isn’t a small decision. However, motivated to take their public service obligation seriously, many broadcasters have good reason to do so—despite the pain. Similarly, a broadcaster—whether it’s a local station, station group or network—may wish to experiment with a new concept for a channel to determine if the idea can attract enough viewers to be successful from a business point of view.
  • Disaster Recovery—Several high-profile U.S. TV broadcasters have been the victims of ransomware attacks recently. With the potential to prevent a broadcaster from accessing stored content, playout schedules and the workflows that support them, this type of attack directly threatens the ability of stations to generate revenue from commercials and puts them on the hook for making goods at some future point.

Similarly, the threat of natural disasters, terrorism, war and other calamities place broadcast studios and their scheduling, playout and billing workflows at risk. Of course, such business disruptions threaten both linear on-air channels as well as any FAST channels a broadcaster may stream.

 

Resolving Pain Points With TVU Channel & Channel Plus

While broadcasters and video entrepreneurs may experience different pain points when it comes to scheduling and playout, TVU Networks has created a scheduling and playout platform that’s equally adept at relieving those of each.

Video entrepreneurs who have a minimum amount of time to program a channel and schedule all playout will find the simplicity of using TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus makes the chore fast and easy. As an added benefit, the solution’s simple interface means a colleague can be trained in no time to take on the responsibility, relieving the channel publisher of those duties and enabling the most efficient use of personnel—a real boon to small, entrepreneurial enterprises.

TVU Channel Plus also directly addresses the problem of not having a sales force in place as well as the headaches that come along with managing one.

Concerns about the high price of investing in dedicated hardware and software are also wiped away because both TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus are cloud-based. The only technology investment needed—beyond the scheduling and playout cloud instance—is an internet connection and a computer to access the scheduling and playout solution.

As an added benefit, the fact that the technology typically needed to schedule and playout a linear channel exists as virtualized instances in the cloud, means no technical expertise is required to run or maintain the solution.

When it comes to the challenges facing broadcasters, TVU Networks’ solutions offer a powerful form of pain relief. Replacing end-of-life playout automation is simply a matter of deploying a cloud instance of TVU Channel. Being unfamiliar with the TVU Channel workflow isn’t an issue either because the solution emulates a traditional setup –but does so in the cloud. It also helps that TVU Channel’s interface is so intuitive and easy-to-use.

Being a cloud solution, broadcasters do not face a heavy CapEx spend to deploy TVU Channel. Offered on a monthly, pay-as-you-go basis the OpEx commitment to use TVU Channel is miniscule compared to the cost of traditional broadcast traffic, automation, playout and Master Control. Additionally, being so affordable makes it easy for broadcasters to decide to spin up ad-hoc channels to cover emergency situations or to test a new channel programming concept and to take them down when the emergency has run its course or the broadcaster has gathered enough data to make a decision on the viability of a new channel.

The cloud-based solution can also play a central role in a broadcaster’s disaster recovery strategy. For instance, running in parallel to an in-place scheduling and playout workflow, TVU Channel makes it easy to switch over to cloud playout in the event of an unforeseen station outage without missing a beat. Further, because TVU Channel runs in the public cloud, it is protected from nefarious players who might target security vulnerabilities to launch a ransomware attack.

TVU Networks’ new TVU Channel and TVU Channel Plus offer video entrepreneurs, TV stations, groups and networks as well as cable TV networks and others an attractive, affordable way to schedule and playout a linear channel—whether that’s a traditional broadcast or a FAST channel that’s streamed to viewers on their smart TVs, phones and digital devices.

 

Conclusion

Both solutions have effectively removed the pain points typically associated with programming a channel and playing it out to viewers, clearing the way for those with the right content and a desire to build an audience an avenue to monetize their program libraries and other content through ad sales.

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