Pluto TV, a video streaming service targeting cord cutters, has differentiated itself from other over-the-top competitors like Netflix by offering a more TV-like experience with over 100 “channels” you flip through in an interface that looks similar to a traditional TV guide.
Now the company is bringing its lean-back video-viewing platform to Apple TV, with plans for Roku right around the corner. The new app also features an updated look-and-feel to better highlight its channels, including a number of channels offering newly licensed content Pluto TV has been adding to its service over the past few months.
As you may recall, Pluto TV got its start as an online platform that primarily aggregated and curated free video content from around the web, including from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion and elsewhere. These videos are organized into interest areas, like music, sports, entertainment, comedy, tech, kids and more.
However, explains Pluto TV co-founder and CEO Tom Ryan, the startup has been expanding beyond free web video in recent months, and has now done 70 content deals in order to increase its selection of licensed video. As of today, the company has the rights to include videos from a number of bigger brands, including NBC News, Sky News, Paramount Pictures, Reuters, AP, CNET, 120Sports, IGN, Nerdist and more.
“It’s always been the plan to license content directly from content owners,” explains Ryan. That’s not only because of the consumer experience Pluto TV wants to offer, but also because of its revenue model.
“We’re monetizing that content directly, and we don’t do that with the content from the open video platform, like YouTube,” he says.
Those videos include 15- and 30-second interstitial ad spots, similar to TV ads, though not as many as on linear television. Currently, the ad buys are programmatic, but the company may expand into direct sales in the future. One of the bigger selling points for potential advertisers is the ability to target users with more personalized ads, thanks to the data Pluto TV would have on signed-in users, which could be pulled from social media profiles, or even their own on-site behavior. (Ryan wouldn’t go into detail on the data itself, only saying that it’s opt-in and the “plumbing is still being built.”)
Of course, that feature won’t mean anything to advertisers without a strong user base, and Pluto TV isn’t yet talking numbers. But the expanded content selection could help with user growth.
Pluto TV did a handful of content deals last year, but Ryan says they’ve increased both the speed and quantity of deals in the past couple of quarters, and that will continue. For instance, it added the ability to stream a limited amount of content from Hulu earlier this summer.
With the debut of the Apple TV app, which follows previous launches on Google’s Android TV and Amazon Fire TV, the company has also updated its user interface to better highlight its channels.
“Last year, people could be forgiven for thinking that some of our channels were just a list of videos,” says Ryan. “Now, we’ve really elevated that so each has its own channel brand and identity. And we’re adding rich interstitials and motion graphics to certain channels, and really making them much more like a full-produced channel.
“And on the Apple TV in particular, you’ll be able to see how lightning fast and how TV-like it is,” he adds.
The company is still married to its TV Guide like-design, however, which is not the way that other over-the-top services display their content. Most rely on more visual thumbnails, curated lists, personalized recommendations, and search to help direct users to content.
But while Pluto TV will roll out increased personalization features, including recommendations, in the future, it still believes in the guide format.
“We still very much believe in the power of giving people an easy-to-search channel search experience, and that’s absent from the current OTT landscape,” explains Ryan. “The predominant use case of video viewing on TV is a lean-back, linear experience,” he says.
Early metrics seem to prove this point. Pluto TV found that on larger screens, like desktop and TV, viewers were engaging in sessions of an hour or more – meaning they treat Pluto TV more like a TV service than a web video service.
The Pluto TV Roku app will arrive shortly after the Apple TV app launches today and will include the additional content and improved look. That same user experience will later be propagated to Pluto TV’s other platforms in the future, including desktop web and mobile.