Is Pluto TV the future?

I’m taking the reins from Jake Buckler this week to talk about this interesting streaming app. Pluto TV launched just five years ago and was bought this year by Viacom for over $300 million. No matter what you say, they must be doing something right.

What is Pluto TV?

Pluto TV looks a lot like old-school cable. If you run the app on your streaming box it gives you a scrollable guide broken up into channels, plus a live feed playing in one corner. Pick what you want to watch and boom, you’re watching it. There’s also a sizable selection of movies and other on-demand content. Best of all, it’s 100% free.

You would think this app would have nothing but schlocky old stuff (although, I like schlocky old stuff). But there’s recent content and even a few channels like Motor Trend TV that are identical to what you get on cable or satellite.

How do they do it?

The old fashioned way, as John Houseman used to say.  Pluto TV’s content has commercials. I’ve seen about 10 minutes of commercials per hour, sometimes more. That still pales in comparison to the 22 minutes of commercials you’ll see in an hour of network TV, but it’s more than Hulu does. While some apps don’t give you commercials in movies, Pluto TV does. They spare no opportunity to serve you commercials.

But is that bad? They deliver a ton of content… over 200 channels. Everything they offer is free. That’s a welcome change when Netflix is about $17 a month and other streaming services are catching up fast.

The story continues, and I’m glad it does.

If PlutoTV simply provided the same experience as cable but did it for free, they’d probably be a success. But, they go further and I think their approach is much smarter than what cable does.

Yes you will find some channels that are set up like regular cable. In other words there are a collection of different shows that run on a schedule. But most of the channels have a laser-focus. They’re just cats, or just marijuana (no I am not making this up.) Some channels focus on just one show. For example, an Addams Family channel has been added recently, probably to promote the movie. It’s literally nothing but Addams Family reruns. Another channel shows nothing but Comedy Central roasts.

This is incredibly smart and I think it’s the future.

Because, how do you watch live TV?

If you’re like me and most people, you have three distinct video watching “modes.”

MODE 1: I know what I want and I want it now

This is why people stream. They want to watch the latest episode of Succession on their schedule. This isn’t really live TV, but it’s presented when you want it. This is the model used by Netflix, Hulu, and pretty much everyone else.

If you want that kind of thing, Pluto TV gives it to you. Maybe you don’t find every show you want (in fact you won’t.) But you will find a decent selection and I did mention once or twice that it’s free.

MODE 2: I don’t know what I want but I kinda have an idea

This is how people spend their weekends a lot lately. Browse through your streaming apps just looking for something that appeals to you. This is also the traditional way that people watch cable or satellite. It’s still a great way to pass some time and be entertained.

Pluto TV obviously has this covered because it’s very similar to cable or satellite in this regard. It’s also similar to streaming services like AT&T TV Now. AT&T TV Now does offer a lot better content choices but it isn’t free. AT&T does offer Watch TV as a free option for people with Unlimited plans, though.

MODE 3: Turn my brain off

Admit it, you do this. people have been doing this for about 75 years. Turn on the TV, set it to a channel and forget about it. The box is just on for noise while you do other things, or to help you sleep.

This is where Pluto TV is perfect. You can find channels that really just feed you the same stuff over and over. If you’ve sat in front of Netflix bingeing Friends  or The Office,  you know what I’m talking about. Except here you can binge hundreds of shows and it’s even easier than other services. And, you know, free.

Is this the future of streaming?

I think this is at least part of the future. I am a big fan of cord-cutting. By this I mean really cutting that bill as low as it can be cut. Get an antenna, some sort of OTA DVR solution, and forget about that $100/month cable bill. Still, even with 100 channels of live TV it can seem like you’re missing out. Add Pluto TV to your cord-cutting plans and you get a lot more stuff for absolutely zero dollars more. Isn’t that why you cut the cord in the first place?

Pluto TV is owned by Viacom so they’re going to be full of a lot of that content. I would like to see something like this come from AT&T with old Warner Brothers, HBO or Audience Network content. It could be offered just like Pluto TV, as a commercial-supported free app. I think there’s a lot to like about that. What do you think?