Viacom to Buy Free Streaming Service Pluto TV

$340M deal plants programmer's feet firmly in direct-to-consumer arena
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Viacom is the latest programmer to take the direct-to-consumer distribution plunge, agreeing Tuesday to  purchase free streaming service Pluto TV for $340 million in cash.

Pluto, founded in 2013, streams more than 100 channels and thousands of hours of on-demand content in an ad-supported service with more than 12 million users. Pluto is accessed via devices from Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Sony PlayStation consoles, as well as built-in integrations on smart TVs from Samsung and Vizio, and mobile apps on Android and iOS. With Pluto, Viacom joins the ranks of larger programmers and distributors like The Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and AT&T that have announced direct-to-consumer initiatives.

The purchase creates a scaled DTC offering for Viacom content  via Pluto TV's 12 million customers, as well as a marketing tool for the programmer's targeted subscription products, including Noggin and Comedy Central Now. The buy also provides an additional distribution outlet for Viacom Digital Studios’ content, beyond the existing AwesomenessTV channel on Pluto TV.

“Today marks an important step forward in Viacom’s evolution, as we work to move both our company and the industry forward,” Viacom CEo Bob Bakish said in a statement. “Pluto TV’s unique and market-leading product, combined with Viacom’s brands, content, advanced advertising capabilities and global scale, creates a great opportunity for consumers, partners and Viacom.

“As the video marketplace continues to segment, we see an opportunity to support the ecosystem in creating products at a broad range of price points, including free,” Bakish continued. “To that end, we see significant whitespace in the ad-supported streaming market and are excited to work with the talented Pluto TV team, and a broad range of Viacom partners, to accelerate its growth in the U.S. and all over the world.”

The Pluto acquisition will help Viacom move forward with several key initiatives, including expanding its presence across next-generation distribution platforms and growing its advanced advertising business, the company said. For Pluto, access to Viacom’s global reach, well-known brands and large programming library will help bolster its position in the free streaming video market in the U.S. and globally.

“Since our launch less than five years ago, and particularly over the past year, Pluto TV has enjoyed explosive growth and become the category leader in free streaming television," said Pluto TV CEO and Co-Founder Tom Ryan in a statement. "Viacom’s portfolio of global, iconic brands and IP, advanced advertising leadership and international reach will enable Pluto TV to grow even faster and become a major force in streaming TV worldwide. Viacom is the perfect partner to help us accomplish our mission of entertaining the planet.”

Ryan will continue to serve as CEO of Pluto TV, which will operate as an independent subsidiary of Viacom upon closing of the transaction, which is expected to occur in the first quarter of this year.

Paul Hastings, Covington & Burling and Shearman & Sterling served as legal counsel to Viacom. Gunderson Dettmer and Hogan Lovells served as legal counsel to Pluto TV, and LionTree Advisors served as financial advisor to Pluto TV.

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