Back To The Future! The Resurgence Of Free TV


For almost fifty years, free TV reigned supreme, starting with the explosion of homes having a TV in the 1950s and continuing well into the 1990s. During that entire time, the public was happy to watch ads (or take a snack break), and was likewise happy to watch whatever the particular channel was playing. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when the number of homes with cable exceeded the number of homes without it.

At first, there was a modest fee for basic cable, but then multiple tiers, bundles, and separate channels from multiple suppliers piled on to get many bills to over $100 per month. To add insult to injury, ads started popping up and soon became ubiquitous on many channels. When ad-free internet SVOD became a viable option with Netflix
starting in 2007, it is not surprising that “cord cutting” started and accelerated until the number of SVOD subscribers surpassed the number of cable subscribers. What’s not to like? Back to one low monthly fee, no ads, and a wide selection of films at the time of your choice.

Fast forward to 2023, and there is now a multitude of tiers, bundles, and SVOD services from multiple suppliers, with total monthly subscriptions approaching $100 per month if a number of SVOD services are used. To add insult to injury, ads are now popping up. Sounds familiar?

So it is not surprising that the hours watched in the U.S. from the combination of true free AVOD (i.e., streaming services that are not part of a paid subscription service) when combined with FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV with linear channels) will surpass the hours watched on SVOD for the first time in 2023. AVOD and FAST include services such as Amazon Freevee, Crackle, Pluto TV, Roku, and Tubi.

Indeed, U.S. households using FAST has doubled in the last year and will soon exceed 50% of all U.S. households. Likewise, free AVOD has been growing at 30% per year. If you add good-old broadcast TV, the total hours watched of free content swamps SVOD. In contrast, SVOD growth in the U.S. is now basically flat.

FAST is like broadcast TV, in that the times of shows are set by the provider, but there are hundreds of channels, so it comes close to being on-demand. When combined with AVOD, there is now an infinite supply of free ad-supported content. Most of the content is old, but old good content easily beats out a garbage paid of new content that is often on SVOD.

So it is back to future, where people are happy to watch ads (or take a snack break), and are likewise happy to watch whatever the particular channel is playing (at least with FAST), and the price is right at $0.


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