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FAST or Slow? Sports TV Hesitates on Ad-Supported Streaming

David Satin

More and more streaming services have decided to live life in the FAST lane, seeing big potential for growth and new revenue streams from ads. FASTs, or free ad-supported streaming television channels, have seen explosive growth and rapid evolution, showing that customers are on-board with the traditional linear format making the move to streaming. FAST channels provide a traditional linear viewing experience airing content 24 hours per day, similar to what consumers are used to from a broadcast and cable perspective.

According to a Variety Intelligence Platform (VIP+) report, there are over 1,400 FAST channels in the U.S. across 22 major providers like the Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi, and more. The content on these channels tends to be familiar TV shows with deep archives so that viewers can tune in to see familiar faces, but not have to worry about making each episode appointment television.

There are hundreds of channels with different types of programming, but not all providers have been willing to embrace the change; sports channels in particular have barely even begun exploring the opportunities presented by FASTs. Although there are currently 117 FAST sports channels available according to VIP+, many of them are channels that offer niche sports like MMA, auto racing, and poker.

Major league sports have been especially hesitant to embrace the change. A big part of the reason for this is that the money involved in live sports rights for the top sports leagues command incredibly high price tags. The NFL reportedly recently signed $100 billion of of broadcasting deals for its rights with major networks. It also recently launched its own streaming service, which could become a model for other major leagues if it proves to be successful.

Despite this, the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, and others might be wise to reconsider. Roughly 500 FAST channels are being created every year and as the expense of cord-cutting continues to increase, customers have increasingly begun noticing the value of FAST channels.

So, while the ad revenue makes the FAST channel beneficial on its own, having a free option to whet the appetite for sports fans could help drive up paid subscription numbers to sports-heavy subscription streamers like ESPN+, Peacock, or Paramount+.

Some sports leagues have already seen the writing on the wall. Pac-12 Insider and the ACC Digital Network are some of the most widely distributed FAST sports channels, which speaks to the wide-ranging penetration of college football, but it also hints at a future in which the major college conferences all have their own FAST channels. Due to their depth of inventory across dozens of sports, college leagues have more than ample amounts of content to justify a FAST channel. And with the economics of college athletics changing dramatically, this could be an opportunity for schools and conferences to get in relatively close to the ground floor.

Customers looking for the best FAST sports offerings should consider the Roku Channel or Tubi. Roku offers 21 FAST sports channels, and Tubi has 13. Those numbers, as well as the amount of services offering FAST sports channels, will undoubtedly increase as the streaming world continues to embrace varying ad-supported models. Far from being gone in the blink of an eye, FASTs are here to stay.

  • Roku Channel

    The Roku Channel is a free live TV streaming service that provides 450+ live linear streaming channels and more than 80,000 free movies and TV shows. The library contains entertainment from several different decades, including some major hits.

    The service also made a splash with the acquisition of the Quibi library, now presented as Roku Originals. More original content is set to follow.

    Users can add premium subscriptions to services like Paramount+, Showtime, STARZ, discovery+, and AMC+ that can be accessed within the Roku Channel ecosystem.

  • Tubi

    Tubi is a free video streaming service that includes on-demand access to 45,000+ movies and television shows - more than any other streaming service. Its ad breaks are shorter and less frequent than most free services. Fox executives have called their service “TV on steroids.”

    The service includes 55+ live news channels affiliated with NBC, FOX, Cox Media Group, Hearst, and Scripps. Local affiliates provide coverage in most major media markets.

    Tubi’s programming includes films and television series from Fox Entertainment, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Disney, and more.


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