Pluto TV is an American internet television service owned by ViacomCBS. Co-founded by Tom Ryan, Ilya Pozin and Nick Grouf in 2013 and based in Los Angeles, California, Pluto is a free, advertiser-supported video on demand (AVOD) service that primarily offers a selection of programming content through digital linear channels designed to emulate the experience of traditional broadcast programming. The service's revenue is generated from video advertisements seen during programming within ad breaks structured similarly to those found on conventional television.
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Pluto TV licenses its content directly from providers, and as of March 2020 has deals with 170 content partners providing more than 250 channels worth of programming. Its content is available via its website and supported apps. As of March 2020, the service averages more than 20 million monthly active users.
Early years (2013–2019)Edit
Pluto TV launched its beta website on March 31, 2014. Co-founded by Thomas V. Ryan (former Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at EMI and co-founder of now-defunct digital music retailer CDuctive), Ilya Pozin (founder and former CEO of venture builder firm Coplex) and Nick Grouf (co-founder and managing director of venture capital firm Alpha Edison), it was originally developed to provide curated channels of existing online content, offering a slate of nearly 100 categorized channels featuring content aggregated from various video sharing platforms (including YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion) as well as additional content provided through partnerships with original web content services and television networks (including Funny or Die, QVC, Refinery29, RocketJump and TYT Network). The service was originally owned by Pluto Inc., which, during the second half of 2013 and early 2014, had raised $13 million in series A funding from investors that included Universal Music Group, Sky plc, UTA Ventures, and venture capital firms U.S. Venture Partners (USVP), QueensBridge Venture Partners, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Luminari Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Chicago Ventures. On May 14, 2014, Pluto unveiled a digital video recorder feature on its website known as "myPluto"; users could “record” content by clicking a “save show” button that would archive content from the channel as it played.
On July 1, 2015, Pluto TV announced it had signed a deal with Hulu to distribute the ad-supported video content available for free on Hulu's website at the time, including current-season episodes of programs from ABC, NBC and Fox, recent and older classic television series, and domestic and foreign animated programs. Under the arrangement, Hulu handled advertising for content made available through the Pluto website. Separately, in the weeks preceding the Hulu deal, Pluto TV had reached content agreements with AOL, Endemol Beyond USA, Shout! Factory, Jukin Media and YouTube content channels Devin SuperTramp, Multicom, Around the World in 4K and Amazing Places on Our Planet to distribute their programming on the service. In October 2015, 20 additional channels (featuring content from AwesomenessTV, IGN, Cracked, DHX Media, Just For Laughs, Newsy, Legendary Digital Networks and The Onion) were brought onto the service's lineup, bringing the total number of curated channels offered by Pluto to around 120.
On May 15, 2016, Pluto TV signed an agreement with Sony to make the Pluto TV app available on the PlayStation Store for download by users of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. In 2016, Pluto Inc. raised $30 million in series B venture capital funding from ProSiebenSat.1 Media, Scripps Networks Interactive, and venture capital firms Luminari Capital, Chicago Ventures and Third Wave Ventures, valuing the company at $140 million. The round was led by German television network ProSieben, with additional funding from telecommunications company Sky UK. On April 30, 2017, Pluto Inc. added a chief programming officer role, appointing Robert Magdlen—who formerly served as senior vice president of program strategy and acquisitions for E! and as a production executive for TNT—in the post, handling responsibilities for programming and channel development from the company's Los Angeles headquarters.
On May 15, 2017, Pluto TV launched a traditional video on demand offering, composing a large library of movies and television shows licensed from such distributors as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Viacom, Sony Pictures, DHX Media, Nelvana, Fremantle, Monstercat and King Features Syndicate that are made available for individual viewing to Pluto users. Variety reported that as of May 2017[update], the service was averaging 6 million users per month, and, as of October 2017[update], it was rated one of the most-watched apps on Roku.
By October 2017, Pluto TV reached over 15 million users. On October 17 of that year, Pluto TV announced it received a $5-million investment from Samsung Venture Investment Corporation as part of a $8.3 million round of funding raised by various investors. On March 15, 2018, Pluto TV entered into a partnership with SpotX to provide advertising monetization services for Pluto, including engendering sales from media buyers breaking into over-the-top content services. On August 1, 2018, Vizio launched a new ad-supported streaming platform powered by Pluto TV, called WatchFree. This service is built into several models of Vizio's line of Internet-connected smart TVs, particularly those supporting its SmartCast operating system, and is advertised as having "an easy-to-navigate, cable-like interface".
On October 1, 2018, Pluto TV expanded into Europe with the launch of a platform on Sky's Now TV service in the United Kingdom, offering an initial slate of more than 12 curated channels. Also in October 2018, Pluto TV picked Tru Optik to help with advertising inventory. On December 4, 2018, Pluto TV launched a regional service in Germany and Austria, also through a separate collaborative agreement with Sky, with the app's content made available initially via the Sky TV stick; the German/Austrian service initially incorporated a slate of 15 streaming channels (composed of both Pluto-exclusive services with German and English language content as well as channels compiled by third-party content providers).
Purchase by Viacom; ViacomCBS ownership (2019–present)Edit
On January 22, 2019, Viacom announced its intention to acquire Pluto for $340 million. Viacom's plans for Pluto TV included using the service as a marketing tool for its portfolio of linear media brands (including incorporating more licensed content from Viacom-owned properties) and to serve as a distribution outlet for its in-house digital content brands (including CBSN, AwesomenessTV and CNET), expanding the service into Latin America, and expanding its distribution on smart TVs. The company also planned to use the service to upsell its subscription video on demand (SVOD) properties (including CBS All Access, Noggin and the then-upcoming BET+) directly to consumers. The deal was completed on March 4, 2019. On March 18, 2019, Viacom—through its Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) unit—announced plans to launch Pluto TV worldwide; VIMN President James Currell stated that the company believed the global SVOD sector was "becoming too crowded and capital intensive," choosing to focus on building scale through ad-supported streaming platforms.
On May 1, 2019, Pluto introduced branded channels based on Viacom Media Networks-owned cable outlets and other Viacom properties, including content from Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central, VH1, Logo, TV Land and MTV. Among those channels is a revival of Spike, which had been relaunched as Paramount Network in January 2018. The free channels are not simulcasts of their namesake networks, as contractual restrictions with traditional pay television providers prevent it from distributing the full linear feeds, but instead focus primarily on archival content and series that Pluto TV has acquired from other content providers. Some of these branded services are direct offshoots of their linear counterparts, while others (such as CMT Cheer 24/7, TV Land Sitcoms, TV Land Drama, MTV Teen, VH1 I Love Reality, and Nickelodeon offshoots Dora TV and Totally Turtles) maintain theme formats offering speciality programming owned by ViacomCBS and other program library partners.
On June 13, 2019, Pluto TV was launched on Comcast's Xfinity X1 cable boxes. On July 1, 2019, the service launched a Spanish language programming tier, Pluto TV Latino, consisting initially of eleven Spanish and Portuguese-language channels (including two sports-focused channels, Lucha Libre and Combate World, that were previously assigned to the service's main sports tier) that incorporate programming originally produced natively in those languages and Spanish-dubbed versions of English and Portuguese programs.
On August 13, 2019, National Amusements announced that Viacom and CBS Corporation—which had split into two separate companies in 2005, five years after the original Viacom first acquired CBS's assets—would recombine their assets into a singular entity to be named ViacomCBS in a deal valued at up to $15.4 billion. Following the announcement, Deadline Hollywood, citing sources within the company, identified Pluto TV as a potential outlet for CBS streaming content. Pluto already carried CBS's free online news service CBSN, and technology and video game-oriented CNET Video. Additional channels from CBS, including CBSN Local's New York and Los Angeles services and an Entertainment Tonight-branded entertainment news channel (ET Live), were added to the service on November 13, 2019, prior to the merger's closure.
In September 2019, Pluto TV became available on mobile platforms in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; the service first became available in those countries on iOS and Apple TV devices on September 6, and on Android devices on September 24. By November 2019, the service was estimated to have 20 million monthly active users.
On February 3, 2020, ViacomCBS announced that Pluto TV would launch in Latin America at the end of March, offering 17 channels available in Spanish and Portuguese at launch; additional channels will be added on a monthly basis with more than 80 channels expected to be available by the end of 2020. Along with content carried by ViacomCBS International Media Networks-owned local versions of its corporate parent's U.S. media properties, co-owned Argentinian network Telefe and Porta dos Fundos will also provide content for the Latin American service. The service is also expected to launch in Brazil by the end of 2020.
On February 20, 2020, ViacomCBS estimated that Pluto TV generated a monthly average of 22 million viewers in the fourth quarter of 2019, with expectations of its user base reaching 30 million monthly viewers by December 2020. The company also announced that Pluto content would be incorporated into a revamped version of CBS All Access, which would also add content from ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks cable properties, Paramount Pictures and CBS Television Distribution. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish stated that Pluto TV—which will remain a free, standalone offering—would be part of the company's refocusing on three core streaming services, alongside the subscription-based CBS All Access and Showtime's OTT service, which would act as its mid-level and premium offerings and which Pluto will also be used to upsell along with ViacomCBS's other niche streaming platforms.
In January 2020, Pluto TV unveiled a new logo at CES 2020, and later unveiled a redesign of its Apple iOS apps, which included a new channel guide and on-demand menu interface. The redesigned interface — absent the new logo — was rolled out to the website and desktop app the following day on February 21, its Roku app on February 26, and Android devices and other platforms on March 2.
Pluto TV is structured similarly to the pay television model, offering its content as designated channels categorized by program content type into 13 channel tiers:
- Featured – new channels and special event content.
- Movies – movie channels, it is consisting of both general-format and genre-based (e.g., comedy, action, horror) services.
- Entertainment – varied general and specialty entertainment-based programming.
- News – consisting of mainstream news and opinion channels, as well as partisan, commentary-based outlets reflecting progressive and conservative viewpoints.
- Binge Watch – consisting of specialized channels centering around individual television programs.
- Comedy – comedy-based services, consisting of stand-up, sitcom/sketch comedy, and curated viral video channels.
- Sports – includes live and previously-aired events, sporting news and analysis programs.
- Explore – consisting of travel, lifestyle, historical and special-interest channels.
- Life + Style – lifestyle-oriented channels
- Tech + Geek – technology, science, sci-fi, and geek culture-oriented channels.
- Kids – channels aimed at children and young teenagers.
- Latino – Spanish language entertainment channels.
- Music – consisting of music videos, video concerts, and audio-based music channels from Dash Radio.
As of April 2020, Pluto TV carries over 200 channels packaging content acquired through various content syndication deals, as well as programming from ViacomCBS's internal libraries. Traditional television channels whose feeds are carried directly on Pluto include Court TV, NASA TV, WeatherNation TV, Buzzr, Newsmax TV, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (and sister network Hillsong Channel), Bloomberg Television, Sky News, Eleven Sports (albeit with some events replaced with alternative programming due to streaming rights restrictions), RT, Stadium and TheBlaze. AVOD services whose feeds are carried on Pluto include Nosey, Cheddar News, TYT Network, and People TV. In addition, Pluto also offers “pop-up channels," which maintain binge-viewing or specialty programming formats that operate on a temporary or open-ended basis.
Pluto TV content can be streamed through a number of desktop, mobile and internet-connected TV platforms including: Android and Apple iOS/iPadOS devices, Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Chromecast, and macOS and Windows computers.
Outside of the United States, Pluto TV and its apps are currently available in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Austria. Pluto is also available in countries such as Canada, but only in a limited capacity due to existing program rights held by domestic broadcasters.
- BET+ – co-owned SVOD offshoot of BET, operated in conjunction with Tyler Perry Studios
- CBS All Access – a SVOD service that primarily offers CBS programming along with some original programs
- My5 - catchup service of ViacomCBS' British TV network Channel 5, featuring Pluto-branded channels and content
- Noggin – a SVOD service specializing in preschool programming
- Philo – a virtual MVPD service jointly owned by ViacomCBS, in conjunction with A&E Networks, AMC Networks and Discovery, Inc.
- Showtime – a SVOD offshoot of the premium television network of the same name
- Except Brazil, which will launch at the end of 2020
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