FAST TV: What It Is and Why It Should Matter to You

FAST TV is tucked in between the worlds of cable TV and subscription-based streaming, and it’s a billion-dollar industry that’s changed how we watch TV. It stands for “free, ad-supported television”, and services such as Tubi and Pluto TV are among the most well-known platforms in the game.

As the monthly costs for streaming service subscriptions continue to rise — Disney Plus and Hulu are the latest examples — it’s time to pay more attention to streaming’s free counterpart. In the US alone, you can access more than 1,000 channels and thousands of films and TV shows by taking advantage of FAST TV. No contract, no fees and no worries about paying to share your password.

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What is FAST TV?

Free, ad-supported television is a form of streaming that delivers programming similar to cable, satellite or traditional TV. You can view FAST TV content on virtually any device at no cost; the only tradeoff is that you have to watch commercials. 

Viewers will find a variety of content on a FAST platform, including TV shows, movies, reality series and live news. Depending on the service, you can watch titles on demand or stream prescheduled broadcasts. And the commercial load is typically less than what you get with traditional TV. According to a Nielsen report, audiences are attracted to classic TV on these platforms, and the addition of studio content from the likes of Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), MGM and NBC on dedicated hubs is increasing viewership.

James Martin/CNET

Types of FAST TV streaming platforms

FAST TV is not limited to live TV channels, and an array of streaming platforms offer free on-demand content and linear channels. They are often a haven for older shows and branded programming, but many providers also have original titles in their lineups. However, there are different types of FAST services. Some can be streamed on any device, regardless of the provider, while others are tied to specific brands and devices. Examples include Samsung TV Plus, which is only available on Samsung smart TVs and phones, and Vizio’s WatchFree Plus service, viewable exclusively on Vizio TVs.

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Here are some of the most popular FAST streaming apps that you can watch anywhere:

Tubi: The Fox-owned company combines video-on-demand and TV channels on its free, ad-supported service, which houses more than 200,000 films and TV show episodes. Tubi offers 200-plus FAST channels and, according to the company, had more than 74 million active users as of September 2023.Pluto TV: Paramount’s Pluto TV is a FAST service that operates like linear TV, with channels that broadcast 24/7. Some on-demand movies and TV series are also available that can be watched on a computer, TV or other device.Roku Channel: The Roku Channel’s FAST offerings are housed here, where you’ll find free on-demand content and 350-plus live channels. It comes built-in on Roku devices in the US, Canada, UK and Mexico, or viewers can watch via the app or web browser. Freevee: Amazon’s Freevee is similar to Tubi and offers a lineup of originals, on-demand titles and more than 100 live channels. The service can be accessed with or without a Prime membership.

FAST channels vs. FAST/AVOD streaming services

This is where the terminology gets confusing. Some companies specialize in FAST channels with a sprinkling of on-demand titles. Google TV and Samsung TV Plus fall into this category. FAST streaming services like Tubi and Freevee double as advertise video-on-demand platforms — aka AVOD — meaning you can stream a title at will like Disney Plus. Their AVOD libraries are larger than their live channel offerings. Because they stream free ad-supported content (via on-demand or channels), they are still considered FAST platforms.

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FAST channels air 24/7 and have scheduled commercial breaks built into their programming. Content is typically organized by genre, and you’ll also find dedicated channels for specific titles or brands. For example, Pluto has a designated channel for Three’s Company under the Classic TV tab and six different channels for Nickelodeon content, including a Dora the Explorer feed. The FAST offerings from Google and Samsung lean more toward the live TV experience. Here’s a peek at what you get:

Samsung TV Plus: Available only on Samsung devices, this platform has almost 200 channels spanning live news, lifestyle, crime, classic TV, kids’ entertainment and music.Google TV: This FAST option has more than 800 free live channels available under its “Live” tab on Google TV devices. Its FAST channel roster includes Tubi, Pluto, FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC programming. 

On the other hand, Tubi has FAST channels and the ability to function like mainstream on-demand platforms such as Netflix. The service allows viewers to register free accounts and create watchlists, rate titles or receive curated recommendations. When you click on Tubi’s live tab, you’ll see a FAST channel guide broken up by genre. Its lineup includes sports, news, Spanish content and dedicated channels for Gordon Ramsay, Warner Bros. TV shows (like Westworld) and Midsomer Murders. 

FAST providers compared

AVOD contentLive FAST channels in USDevice typeChannel examplesTubi Yes200AnyToday All Day, TMZ, Total Crime, Cinevault ClassicsPluto Yes250AnyAMC Networks, Baywatch, Matlock, ’70s CinemaFreevee Yes300AnyBBC, MGM Presents, Amazon Originals, Forensic FilesGoogle TV Yes800Google TV-enabled (Chromecast, phones, Sony, TCL, Hisense, Philips smart TVs)Ion, Hell’s Kitchen, NBC News Now, Hallmark Movies & MoreSamsung TV Plus Yes190Samsung TVs, Galaxy tablets and phonesClassic Doctor Who, CBS News, VICE, TV Land DramaRoku Channel Yes350AnyCrunchyroll, Lego, Food52, ABC News LiveLG Channels Yes300LG smart TVs, Android, iOS phonesShout TV, The Walking Dead, Johnny CarsonVizio WatchFree+ Limited250Vizio smart TVsReuters, Divorce Court, AMC Thrillers, Paramount Movie Channel from PlutoXumo Play Yes300AnyBloomberg, Funny or Die, Stories by AMC

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How to access FAST TV 

While some FAST platforms are preinstalled on your phone or smart TV, you can download the apps for others or stream them on a web browser. 

If you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, for instance, you may notice the TV app is already on your device. The Roku Channel app can be downloaded to your smart TV, streaming player (like a Roku or Amazon’s Fire TV stick) or mobile device. It’s also available via a web browser. Tubi can be streamed anywhere, and if you have an iOS device, the mobile app now has AI search capabilities. 

For live channel lineups, you’ll notice that most platforms’ layouts look like a grid, similar to how cable channels are displayed. Scroll through to find movie and TV show genres, dedicated hubs for networks like Hallmark, ABC or NBC and Crunchyroll. FAST platforms continue to expand, giving you access to free content across niche areas, and we urge you to explore services that aren’t spotlighted here to watch TV shows, news and movies whenever you want. 

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