The Importance of Scheduling in Linear Programming

For FAST platforms, scheduling is both a challenge and opportunity.


June 29, 2022

While there are many critical considerations that go into content streaming, providers have a habit of overlooking the importance of one in particular: scheduling. With matters such as production, distribution and data collection occupying the majority of headspace for OTT operators, scheduling often mistakenly takes a back seat for many inexperienced programmers.

For SVOD platforms, the subject is moot. Scheduling simply doesn’t apply to Netflix, Hulu and other strictly on-demand services. But FAST channels operate in a fashion similar to that of a cable TV station, scheduling 24/7 content feeds rather than offering a click-through content library with recommendation algorithms. For FAST platforms, scheduling is both a challenge and opportunity.

The challenge: scheduling is hard. Programming a 24/7 channel means starting with a substantial amount of content out of the gate. Many providers simply lack the quantity, let alone variety, of content necessary to make the continuous programming of a FAST channel truly viable. Moreover, programmers must decide when and how to implement advertisements, which can have dramatic effects on the viewing experience. On top of that, those programmers need to stay alert for outages and other issues that can pop up on content feeds.

Programming is more than just stitching together a baseline level of proprietary content. To do it well requires a provider to think through the nature of the content, the channel’s intended brand voice, scheduling blocks and additional audience engagement considerations such as retention data. Many content providers – even experienced ones – enter into scheduling a linear-programmed FAST channel poorly equipped to do so.

FAST providers still should view scheduling as an advantage over SVOD platforms. Subscription-based on-demand services battle streaming fatigue and low content-discovery options, while linear-programmed FAST channels can pick and choose what a viewer sees, when they see it and which content it leads and follows.

In that sense, many of the old scheduling maxims of terrestrial and traditional television apply to FAST channels. Packaging similar content to target specific audiences, maximizing engagement and promoting longer viewing sessions are strategies that still have legs today. A FAST channel that streams only comedies from the 1980s and ‘90s can expect a certain audience demographic, and thus can build a particular advertising strategy. Programmers might further hone that strategy by scheduling a block of late-night frat house comedies and a Sunday afternoon marathon of rom-coms. Counterprogramming against holidays and big events (a Super Bowl or tentpole cinematic release) is another tactic.  

The key, however, is consistency. A FAST programmer’s goal should be to make the viewing experience as predictable as possible. Is the content what a customer would expect and want when they visit the channel? Can they reliably find a favorite show or genre on that channel at the same time, and on the same day? Connecting with an audience is only the first step. Retaining and bringing those viewers back on a regular basis is the true test of linear-channel scheduling.

The process may seem simple, but FAST programmers should underestimate scheduling only at their own risk. Planning, measuring, iterating and doing it all with intention are crucial to the success of scheduling in linear programming. And, the tools and services provided by Frequency exist for these purposes – mitigating the challenges and optimizing the benefits of FAST channels.

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