Remember Free TV? It’s Coming Back in a Big Way

Ad-supported platforms are now key to streaming’s future

In January, almost a year after Viacom CEO Bob Bakish told investors his company was preparing to launch a streaming service in late 2018, Viacom finally unveiled its OTT strategy—but it wasn’t what anyone had been expecting. Instead of creating its own subscription video on demand (SVOD) service—as rivals Disney, Comcast and AT&T are doing—the company had opted to buy Pluto TV, the free, ad-supported streaming video platform, for $340 million. The news left many Viacom investors and partners scratching their heads. “They’re like, ‘You bought what?’ Most of them didn’t even know what it was,” says Bakish. But many of them quickly warmed to the CEO’s new acquisition, which was finalized a month ago, after he and his other execs explained how Pluto is “integral” to Viacom’s distribution and advertising strategy. “This is much bigger than people realized when we did it,” says Bakish. “We think it’s a real game changer, not only for our company, but for the industry.”

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This story first appeared in the April 8, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.