It’s been a year of breakneck user growth for Pluto TV.
Monthly active users hit 20 million in November, a 70% increase since January, when Viacom acquired the free ad-supported streaming service for $340 million.
That’s nearly 8 million new users in less than a year. So, how did Pluto do it?
Its growth is largely a function of ongoing investments in content, distribution and marketing really hitting their stride, said Jeff Shultz, an EVP at Viacom and chief business officer for Pluto TV, which offers a mix of live TV streaming channels and on-demand video.
Content – Pluto is launching new channels as fast as it can – feeds distribution. Brand and performance marketing yield audience. Audience increasingly yields revenue, which translates into additional resources for more and better content. And repeat.
Although Pluto’s growth had already started to pick up a couple of years ago, the Viacom deal has really helped accelerate it, Shultz said.
Pluto added 47 new channels to its service since the acquisition closed in May, a quarter of which were in partnership with Viacom. “MTV, Comedy Central, ‘The Hills,’ ‘SpongeBob’ – we got to pour all of this premium content into the flywheel,” Shultz said.
Still, a lot of Pluto’s growth continues to be driven by the variety of third-party content it negotiates onto the platform. Pluto added a James Bond movie channel this year, for example, an NFL channel, a horror channel, a gaming channel and a hub called Pluto TV Latino that nests 22 Spanish language channels for a US Hispanic audience, including movies, drama, reality and stuff for kids.
This something-for-everyone approach is a core tenet of Pluto’s growth strategy, but it’s also key for retaining users.
“More content, better content, relevant content is key for retention,” Shultz said. “If people know they’re likely to find something that’s interesting to them when they come, then they’ll keep coming back.”
There’s also a plan on the docket for Q1 2020 to launch Pluto TV in Latin America with help from Viacom. Bob Bakish, now the CEO of ViacomCBS and the longtime chief of Viacom International, is “very tuned into non-US opportunities,” Shultz said.
All about CTV
Pluto is also working on making its content available wherever consumers want to watch it by striking as many distribution deals as possible.
To date, Pluto has more than 30 distribution partnerships, including with Roku, Fire TV, PlayStation and Xbox.
On top of that, Pluto powers Vizio’s WatchFree service and Samsung TV Plus, both of which are included out of the box.
“It’s a deliberate effort to shift as much of our business to CTV as possible,” Shultz said. “These are the experiences that drive usage and cause people to stay for longer sessions.”
Keeping it free
But it takes more than the marriage of content and distribution to keep the momentum going. And so Pluto has its own growth and performance marketing team whose job it is to continually calibrate a balance between the cost of customer acquisition and lifetime value.
Pluto’s got an advantage over its competitors, though, particularly the subscription video on demand guys, according to Shultz, because the barrier to entry for becoming a Pluto user is so low. The service is free and users don’t have to sign up, register or share any information before starting to watch.
“We’re definitely playing a different game than the SVOD guys – our model is more like tune-in TV than anything else,” Shultz said. “When a subscription service has a lapsed subscriber, man, it’s hard to get that person to take out their credit card again, while our job is just about staying top of mind with people.”
Even so, would Pluto TV ever consider launching a paid subscriber tier?
“We’re a part of Viacom now, soon to be ViacomCBS, and that’s a massive business with diverse business models,” Shultz said. “But Pluto TV will always be free. The market has given us every reason to believe that’s the right decision.”