Two top executives at Pluto TV gave an update on the top ad-supported streaming player’s progress and fielded questions about the increase in competition during a NATPE keynote appearance Tuesday.
Chief Business Officer Jeff Shultz and Amy Kuessner, SVP of business partnerships, each offered takes on the burgeoning competition in streaming, with both subscription- and ad-supported offerings proliferating.
This month, NBCUniversal and Comcast’s Peacock and startup Quibi have each recently planted a flag with investors and media and will carry ads when they launch in April. HBO Max, debuting in May, will be ad-free to start but will add an AVOD tier in 2021. In the free AVOD realm, Tubi, Crackle, Xumo and others have helped push overall viewing levels higher, but through on-demand user experiences rather than a fully linear offering.
“I see us as very different,” Kuessner said. “There’s not one company or one platform out there today that truly offers a linear experience much like Pluto. We are curating 80% of the channels that are on our platform, so our editorial team is curating content from multiple suppliers. … We’re not just picking up third-party channels.”
Pluto has “paved the way,” she continued. “Pluto has been in this space for six years. Some of the biggest media companies are just getting into the space today. We have a lead in the space and what we do is unique. … Also, Peacock has three tiers. They have their ‘free,’ the pay with ads and the pay without ads. My personal feeling is that free is going to be a front porch to their paid services. They’re going to find out pretty quickly how free does, though, and that model could shift quickly. So we’ll be keeping our eye on that.”
Shultz said it is “hard to explain how we have had so much room to run” without direct competition.
The execs began the session by recalling that it was one year ago to the day that the company was acquired by Viacom for $340 million. Its active user base has nearly doubled since, to about 20 million.
“Everybody bought us a shot last year” in Miami, Shultz laughed. “We were the talk of the town.”
As to the strategic fit, he added that Pluto matched ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish’s plan to have a presence in “the biggest cable bundles to free to everything in between.” Plugging into a large media company has brought numerous advantages to Pluto, including more direct access to Viacom (and now CBS) programming and tapping the company’s advertising machine. “We went from not having an upfront the year before to last year [in 2019] having a tens-of-millions upfront,” Shultz said.
Third-party relationships were another driver of the acquisition, Kuessner said. “That was critical to who we are and what we continue to do, so being a platform for all partners” and not just being turned into a vertical asset for Viacom and CBS networks.
As to Pluto’s growth potential, Shultz said, “I am absolutely confident we can continue to grow. … Many of the biggest dominos we have have yet to fall.” Distribution is one of the main dominoes, and co-ordinated efforts with ViacomCBS are still in early stages on that front, he added.