Plex’s secret weapon: cross-media integrations

Plex’s expansion beyond a home media organizer to becoming a centralized platform for all your media, gives the company a distinct advantage. By tying all media together under one roof — streaming music, podcasts, web shows and video of all sorts — Plex is able to add interesting and unique features around personalization and recommendations.

We’re only beginning to see some of the results of these sorts of integrations now.

To start, Plex today is leveraging its TIDAL music partnership to highlight which songs appear in a TV show, episode or movie they’re watching. Currently, this works for library content only, but Plex told TechCrunch at CES this week that the feature soon will work for AVOD [ad-supported video on demand] content as well shows and movies recorded to their cloud DVR via a digital antenna.

In the months ahead, Plex will begin to roll out more cross-media integrations, it says.

For example, Plex may suggest a podcast about the TV episode you just watched or point you to a news item or a web show about a movie’s actor. If the movie you’re watching just won an award, Plex could point to the live TV recording of that particular awards show on your DVR, and so on.

“We’re tying together other types of media in a way that others haven’t, or don’t do today. From our perspective, it’s about building this kind of richer media experience,” said Plex CEO Keith Valroy, in an interview at CES.

Where other video streaming services may display a “suggested content” section to users from the landing page for an individual title, they’re only able to point to other content they host. Plex will be able to tie together content from across services and sources.

The only real competitor on this front, so far, is YouTube TV, which points to YouTube content under a “Related on YouTube” section of its live TV streaming app. But this is still a limited experience compared to what Plex envisions.

These cross-media recommendations could be displayed on the title’s pre-play screen or the suggestions could appear when you finished watching the title in question (or both), depending on how Plex chooses to present these “related” suggestions when the product is finalized.

While this sort of feature is possible because Plex organizes all types of media, it’s only now rolling out thanks to the work the company has done on its backend.

“What’s been happening in the background is we’re moving more and more of the metadata to our cloud services,” said Plex Chief Product Officer Scott Olechowski. “In the past, we would interact with all the services directly, from your media server. Now that’s all getting centralized in our cloud services.”

The company confirmed that it’s already testing an expansion of this feature internally with podcasts, hard evidence that these features are more than vaporware.

Plex says one of the hardest tasks to get to this point wasn’t the technical work — Plex, if anything, is known for its savvy engineering. Instead, it was starting the conversations with content owners.

“The most important thing that happened in 2019 was building these relationships with Hollywood. We hadn’t done that before,” said Olechowski.

Also key to developing a rich metadata-powered feature like cross-media recommendations are Plex’s expansive relationships with metadata providers. The company today works with IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Internet Video Archives, TVDB, TV Time, Reelgood, TiVo Rovi, Movie Poster DB, The Movie Database and others.

“Our attitude is that we’re going to become this thing that weaves it all together. And we want to add value on top of that: finding the connections between things, and if there’s a hole somewhere, we plug it,” Olechowski said, adding that user-generated content may be something Plex tackles, eventually. “There’s so many sources we pull in and we’ve gotten really good at that.”