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Pluto TV Plugs an OTT Gap

Browsable, Ad-Based Offering Looks, Feels Like Live TV 3/16/2015 8:00 AM Eastern
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Sky-backed startup Pluto TV assembles video from online providers into virtual, linear TV style “channels.”

While most over-the-top video services have fixated on vast on-demand libraries, Pluto TV, like its namesake planetoid, has an idea that might seem way out there, or perhaps past its prime — it offers a lineup of dozens of virtual linear channels that tie into a wide range of themes and interests.

 

That’s the idea behind the service backed by U.K. satellite-TV provider Sky, which booted up almost a year ago.

 

Pluto TV licenses and syndicates content from an array of third parties and content owners, including Shout Factory, Newsy, FunnyOrDie, YouTube, Maker Studios and Fullscreen. It then stitches them into an interactive program guide that one might find on a traditional cable box. There are dedicated channels for artists such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, athletes like LeBron James, and topics as specific as snow sports, movie trailers and kickboxing — and even one that’s flush with hockey fights.

 

The IP nature of the advertising-supported service also gives Pluto TV the ability to whip up channels that focus on a crisis, a current pop-culture phenomenon or another area that ties into the social consciousness that isn’t necessarily being addressed by traditional linear channels. One recent example: Pluto TV launched a temporary dedicated tribute channel about the life and times of the late actor Leonard Nimoy.

 

But why focus on a linear model when viewing trends are clearly shifting to on-demand?

 

Tom Ryan, Pluto TV’s CEO, conceded that broadband’s popularity has paved the way for new video sources that tend to rely on a search-based on-demand library. That works if you know what you’re looking for.

 

Pluto TV tries to weave together cutting-edge OTT fare with an almost old-school linearstyle focus.

 

“A lot of times, people just want to push a button and be entertained,” he said. “We believe that there’s a gap in the marketplace in the way in which consumers generally like to consume video and media generally.”

 

In that sense, he sees Pluto TV as an ambient complement to subscription OTTVOD services in much the same way Pandora fits with Spotify with respect to music.

 

“We don’t believe it’s an either/or world,” Ryan said. “We’re curating the best of the Web so you don’t have to hunt and peck your way through the Web to find good stuff. We also believe that people like to consume content ideally in one place or a small handful of places rather than having to go from app to app to app as you currently have to do, particularly on a connected TV device.”

 

Pluto TV won’t provide viewership numbers, but Ryan said usage is growing and the reach of the service extends beyond millennials and consumers who are cutting or shaving the cord.

 

“We’ve been extremely encouraged that people are treating this more like TV than Web video,” he said.

 

QVC is currently the only traditional cable channel offered by Pluto TV, but the OTT video provider expects to add more down the road, Ryan said.

 

As for distribution, Pluto TV is on Web browsers, iOS and Android mobile devices, the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, the Nexus Player and is the first streaming service to run on the Android TV platform. Pluto TV, which has a dedicated Ultra HD channel, will also be offered on the Nvidea Shield, a 4K gaming console that will be powered by Android TV.

 

Pluto TV landed a $13 million “A” funding round last November, led by U.S. Venture Partners, with help from previous investors, including Sky, Chicago Ventures, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Luminari Capital.

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