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By Paul Pastor

Like the cacophony of a busy commercial street, today’s OTT community can be overwhelming for subscribers. So with hundreds of services and interface variations and a bottomless well of content clashing for audiences’ attention, providers are responding by creating FAST channels that shelter subscribers from the blare of too much choice and take them back to a simpler time.

FAST channels are the new “front porch” of streaming. These free, ad-supported, linear TV channels can have multiple objectives: they’re the veranda on which viewers can put their feet up, sip a drink, and enjoy choice-free viewing; at the same time they’re also the entryway to a world beyond in which channel owners can begin to drive consumers into potentially higher value services.

Interestingly, FAST channels are throwbacks that fly in the face of technology advances: While OTT has promised unlimited choice and viewing on the subscriber’s terms, the industry’s latest and greatest customer experience looks less like the future and more like the past– linear channels that mirror the broadcast and cable channels that were pushed aside for streaming.

The reality, however, is that feeding viewers a one-size-fits-all lineup of programming has the same pitfalls that it did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. Content intended to appeal to a broad range of viewers may not sufficiently engage individual interests, resulting in reduced viewership and diminished ability to use FAST to promote content in providers’ SVOD and AVOD services. And with more than 1,400 FAST channels in-market, differentiating one from the others becomes increasingly difficult.

What’s needed is a better front porch. Rather than virtual linear channels that deliver the same experience to all audiences, the industry needs to act now to amplify the power of FAST. Optimizing FAST means harnessing cloud-based personalization and monetization tools to enable each viewer to receive a channel experience that reflects their interests and maximizes the value of providers’ extensive content libraries. I want to see Madonna on my MTV ‘90s channel; somebody else can watch Pearl Jam.

As an OTT provider, I want to know how I can leverage stated and demonstrated subscriber preferences to combine the simplified experience viewers want with the targeted content and advertising that will make my channel stand out. I want a way to migrate those viewers to my owned-and-operated services that can help to build value, and to mine that value across different and discrete bundling and packaging opportunities. Just as importantly, I need to do it in a way that allows a single backend to support every service and every brand, and that scales as my business grows. (Spoiler alert: We created Firstlight Media to help you achieve those goals.)

In OTT, as in life, the best front porch experiences should be the gateways to lasting relationships. Our industry needs to prioritize the redesign of FAST channels so they continue to create comfortable, lean-back environments for subscribers, but also enable the dynamic engagement and deeper personal connections that can create long-term bonds that build lifetime value.