Why Pluto TV Picked Late Night For Its First-Ever Linear Ad Campaign

It's the company's way of urging viewers to 'drop in'

A woman with a shocked face holding a remote with chips in her lap watching TV next to a man with a shocked face
Pluto TV's first-ever television ad campaign depicts viewers being zapped away when they watch content on the service. Pluto TV

Key insights:

Pluto TV is betting fans of late night will be fans of their free ad-supported streaming service.

That’s why this month, viewers of CBS’ The Late Late Show With James Corden, NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers, TBS’ Conan, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and other late-night programming blocks will feature Pluto TV’s first-ever television ad spots. The campaign features several 30-second and 15-second spots depicting Pluto TV viewers getting zapped away as they start watching the service’s programming.

“We wanted to get the video commercial on traditional TV, and late night seemed to be a great place where we could go broad,” Tom Ryan, the founder and CEO of Pluto TV, told Adweek. “We thought we’d get in front of an audience who we think would be interested in our service, and we targeted around that particular content category.”

For Pluto TV, the focus on late night aligns with some of the live and on-demand programming the service promotes and has from its parent company, like Comedy Central’s flagship late night program, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, and Daniel Tosh’s Tosh.0.

“We know that late night programming and comedy are popular with Pluto TV viewers, and Mediahub’s analysis confirmed the opportunity to reach our target audience,” said Fran Hazeldine, Pluto TV’s svp of marketing. “It’s also a contextual fit for the brand.”

The first airings of the ads rolled out Monday night, and they will continue for the next four weeks during late-night programming that also will include airings of Family Guy, Hot Ones: The Game Show and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the company said. Following the late night ad blitz, the service will continue marketing around March Madness, another audience that Pluto TV executives think will respond well to Pluto TV’s offering.

The ads represent the first television ad campaign from Pluto TV, which has focused most of its marketing efforts on performance marketing in the past, and it is part of a larger brand refresh and product overhaul for the ViacomCBS-owned AVOD service. The company has dedicated $30 million to brand awareness efforts this year, Ryan said, an investment that comes as the entertainment and marketing industries train their eyes on ad-supported video-on-demand as a potentially lucrative complement to subscription streaming services.

Pluto TV’s push will also include substantial out-of-home element. Ads for the service that will depict well-known programming available on the streaming service alongside a refreshed logo for the service will appear in seven markets in the U.S. including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis and Houston. (The company’s first ever broader brand campaign debuted about a year ago in markets like New York and Los Angeles.) The company will also advertise across connected TV devices for the next eight weeks, Hazeldine said.

The push coincides with a substantial product upgrade for the service that emphasizes live viewing and better discovery, which Pluto TV hopes will keep people engaged for longer on the service. The name of the upgrade, Venetia, is named after Venetia Katharine Douglas Burney, the child credited with naming the celestial body Pluto.

“What Venetia is focused on is to make it easier to watch, because we want people to watch more and watch more frequently,” Ryan said. “The way we want to do that is make it easier for people to find the channels and find the content they want, and also make it easier for them to personalize their experience.”

Pluto TV’s branding refresh and ad blitz comes as ViacomCBS has emphasized Pluto TV’s importance in the company’s streaming strategy, which comprises both free streaming alongside subscription video-on-demand services like CBS All Access. Pluto TV, which Viacom acquired for $340 million in 2019, continues to operate as a standalone company under the newly combined ViacomCBS umbrella, but has already seen benefits to being part of a larger content company; for instance, the service had an influx of new programming from Viacom brands soon after the acquisition.

Part of ViacomCBS’s plan is to use Pluto TV in tandem with its subscription offerings to build a cross-pollination powerhouse. A recent effort to promote the first episode of the CBS All Access original Star Trek: Picard for free on Pluto TV to drive people to try out CBS All Access was “very successful,” Ryan said, although he declined to disclose figures.

“We’re big believers that a highly engaged user makes someone who is a likely upsell to paid services,” Ryan said. “Similarly, when people churn out of the subscription products, Pluto TV is a great place for them to go to continue their relationship with the company. There is an interplay in both directions.”

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.