EXCLUSIVE: Pluto TV, which was founded in 2014, has become a $1 billion-a-year business a year ahead of schedule.
The free streaming service’s parent company, ViacomCBS, confirmed the annual revenue milestone during its second-quarter earnings call with analysts. CEO Bob Bakish had previously signaled the billion-dollar mark would be hit in 2022. Viacom acquired Pluto for $340 million in cash in January 2019, months before reuniting with CBS.
“The power of Pluto TV is unquestionable,” Bakish said on the call, saying it will “comfortably” hit the $1 billion threshold this year. He noted that the U.S. version now has 200,000 hours of programming available, a level that has doubled in the past year.
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Pluto’s free, ad-supported offering is now available in 25 countries around the world and has 52 million active users each month, per the latest stats today from ViacomCBS. It was the leading contributor to a 102% year-over-year surge in overall streaming revenue at the company during the quarter.
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“We’re incredibly excited and proud,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of streaming at ViacomCBS and a co-founder of Pluto, in an interview. “We scaled it from a contrarian idea to over a billion dollars in revenue in seven years.”
Pluto started out as an early player in ad-supported video on demand, or AVOD, before adding live channels and an on-screen programming guide to replicate the traditional TV viewing experience. The more than 200 live, linear channels on Pluto have been a key element in the traction it has gained with both viewers and advertisers. The channel offerings are curated versions of what is available via the traditional pay-TV bundle, and show- or character-centric channels devoted to Survivor or James Bond joining network fare.
As with subscription sibling Paramount+, live sports and news are foundational elements of Pluto and have helped it increase average view time by 45%.
“A lot of the power of live has traditionally not been taken advantage of in streaming,” Ryan said. As in the traditional pay-TV realm, “people tend to gravitate to a handful of channels they love” on Pluto, Ryan said, but because the “cost point is zero … people do love channel-surfing.”
In the merged company, which is looking to work the synergy levers, Pluto has become a “very effective front porch” for funneling viewers to Showtime, CBS and other platforms. Episodes of series as well as library films are offered on the Paramount Pics Showtime Selects channels on Pluto. Ryan said those offerings are “among the highest performers on Pluto, generating significant leads” for customer acquisition. The platform has even exceeded YouTube, which is usually the most potent driver of subscriptions.
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