For Pluto TV, the Streaming Wars Will Be Great for Business

CEO Tom Ryan said his AVOD service will be 'complementary' to SVOD offerings

Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan talking to Adweek
Pluto TV now has 165 content partners and 18 million monthly users. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

A streaming showdown is coming, but Tom Ryan isn’t worried. In fact, the co-founder and CEO of the free ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV is looking at it as a business opportunity.

The streaming wars, which have so far been defined by subscription video-on-demand services like the upcoming Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock, are bound to get ugly as competitors try to pry customers away from more established players like Netflix and Hulu. Pluto TV, which Viacom acquired earlier this year, is hoping to attract marketing dollars from those premium subscription services as those companies duke it out for more customers.

Pluto TV “serves as the frictionless upsell and a sort of gateway,” Ryan said in a conversation with Adweek TV and media editor Jason Lynch at Adweek’s Advanced TV Summit on Sept. 25.

Already, the virtual MVPD Sling TV has advertised on Pluto TV because it was looking to reach an engaged streaming audience to funnel them toward a premium service. Ryan is hoping Pluto TV will add even more services to its slate of regular advertisers.

“I think there are a lot of things that we could do with a lot of SVOD players,” he said.

There’s another benefit to the ongoing streaming wars. If Ryan is to be believed, the more streamers there are, the more interest and appetite there will be for AVOD services to round out content options.

“Pluto TV is the ultimate complementary streaming asset,” he said. “Because we know that subscription fatigue is setting in, people will only pay so much for subscriptions. You need the ability to actually expand your bundle for free.”

In January, Viacom acquired the streaming service for $340 million as ad-supported platforms have become key to streaming’s future. When the deal closed, the companies wasted no time bringing Viacom content to the service, adding 42 new content channels centered on Viacom brands like Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon.

“Our deal catalyzed AVOD as a category,” Ryan said. “People didn’t appreciate the power of AVOD, but I think that’s because the space was nascent, and also because people didn’t believe there was room for the space to grow.”

And grow it has. The company, which at the beginning of the year had 120 content partners, now has 165 content partners, and has expanded from 12 million monthly active users to 18 million, Ryan said. In August, Viacom and CBS Corp. announced the companies would merge into ViacomCBS, bringing a number of SVOD and AVOD properties under one roof.

While Ryan is bullish about the future of AVOD, he said measurement capabilities need to catch up to give brands and advertisers confidence to spend on those services.

“It’s sort of the wild west at this point in terms of measurement,” Ryan said. “There’s no standard solution for measurement in AVOD, and the entire space benefits if there is a standardization in measurement just like in traditional TV. … We need a standard to rely on. Otherwise, it’s tough for brands and agencies to know what they’re buying.”

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