Are There Too Many Free Ad-Supported TV Channels?
How many is too many? There’s no denying that people love free TV, but with over 1,500 individual free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels available, it can sometimes become difficult to figure out what you want to watch. Having options is great, but with the number of FAST channels only expected to grow, sometimes that leads to a headache that free streaming options were supposed to solve.
First off, people already have a hard enough time trying to figure out what to watch. A recent Nielsen report found viewers took 52% longer to choose what show to watch in October 2022 than they did in March 2019. There are many reasons for this significant increase in uncertainty, but chief amongst them is the fact that the average consumer now has far more choices than ever because, despite recent headwinds, streaming has undergone unfathomable growth during that time period.
The streaming landscape has undoubtedly changed and will likely continue to do so as new options like FAST channels emerge in an effort to give customers what they want, content at a cheap price, users now have more access to streaming services than ever before, and each of these services also has more content available to them than ever before.
Expanding content options was a major factor in the growth rate for FAST services in 2022. Of the 1,500-plus FAST channels, according to a report released in January, in the fourth quarter of last year, The Roku Channel led all services with 453, followed by Pluto TV with 350 and Plex with 332, and the number of FAST channels keeps growing every day. Just last week, Roku added 11 new channels to its users, which include Screambox TV, a channel featuring horror and thriller content from AMC’s dedicated spooky streaming service and Dateline 24/7, which airs NBC’s beloved weekly magazine 24 hours per day.
However, we could be reaching a plateau of sorts. Variety media analyst Gavin Bridge wrote in 2021 “the current gold-rush phenomenon” could come to an end in the next year or two. Peacock has already removed the option for new users to sign up for a free account, meaning that new subscribers will have to pick between Peacock’s $4.99 ad-supported tier or its $9.99 ad-free plan.
So, while the glut of subscription streaming services continually adding content make it difficult for cord-cutters to pick what they want to watch next, the free options that were supposed to help alleviate this issue by providing low-stakes, lean-back content aren’t making it much easier by continually adding more and more channels of their own. While options are obviously good for consumers, at some point, something new might emerge to make the onus of picking what to watch less taxing on viewers.