Think there are too many streaming services? How about one more? Today, Vizio says it’s launching its own streaming service called WatchFree that will be available on nearly all its Vizio SmartCast TVs via a separate input. The service itself will be powered by streaming TV provider Pluto TV, and will include access to over 100 live and linear channels featuring news, entertainment, sports, movies, and more.
Pluto TV is a differentiated player in the busy streaming video market. Instead of trying to get cord cutters to pay for a skinny bundle of channels, its over-the-top service delivers content from a number of networks and other sources for free. The service primarily generates revenue through advertising.
For example, the company has content deals with dozens of partners like Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM, Bloomberg Media, Al Jazeera English, CNN, Hearst, Tastemade, Machinima, FreemantleMedia, CNBC, Cheddar, Gravitas Ventures, Asylum, Viz Media, Electronic Music Awards, Big Sky Conference, Stadium, Jukin Media, and many others.
In then assembles this hodgepodge into an interface that looks a lot like your traditional cable TV guide, where you can tune into what’s airing now and see what’s coming up next.
On WatchFree, Pluto TV is bringing channels like Pluto TV Movies, Action Movies, Black Cinema, News 24/7, NBC News/MSNBC, Fox Sports, Frontdoor, Cats 24/7, Crime Network, MST3K, and The Surf Channel. In addition, Pluto TV will launch two new channels on Vizio service – one dedicated to Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” and another called “Unsolved Mysteries.”
The service is meant to serve as a selling point for Vizio’s TVs, by offering buyers an easy way to watch free programming. To some extent, the move makes sense, as many TV buyers today are planning to only use the set for streaming content – not cable TV.
Vizio’s SmartCast TVs cater to this audience of cord cutters already by offering easy access to local broadcasts via a connected over-the-air antenna. It also offers Chromecast support built-in, allowing viewers access to a number of paid streaming apps including DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and others. And it (again) supports apps accessed directly, without casting.
To access the new WatchFree service, SmartCast TV owners will press the “Input” button on their remote then select “WatchFree” to be taken to the live TV experience. This makes it feel more like the traditional cable TV experience some cord cutters may be missing.
“Powering VIZIO’s WatchFree service is a pivotal next step in our goal to deliver free, premium entertainment to as many consumers as possible,” states Tom Ryan, Pluto TV co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “From hit TV shows to blockbuster movies, news, sports, lifestyle and more, WatchFree is a gamechanger for cord-cutting enthusiasts.”
Pluto TV is licensing the service to Vizio, but won’t discuss the deal’s terms. It has done a number of other deals as well, some unannounced – including one with Samsung to power the live channels in its TV+ experience; and another with Microsoft, where its guide is built in on MSN, featured in its Video section with a direct link on the menu bar, and frequently referenced on the home page. There are others in the works, as well, the company tells TechCrunch.
The launch of partnership with Vizio follows Pluto TV’s recent hiring of its first Chief Revenue Officer, Rich Calacci, previously senior VP of sales at Turner Sports and CRO of Bleacher Report, as well as the earlier top-level additions of ex-Disney exec Mike Drath as COO and CFO, and former CBS exec Jeff Shultz as Chief Business Officer.
Pluto TV is backed by $51.8 million in outside funding, according to Crunchbase, from investors including Samsung Ventures, Scripps Networks, Sky, Third Wave Digital, ProSieben, USVP, United Talent Agency, Luminari Capital, Chicago Ventures, Pritzker Group and others.