[This is an Always Be Watching paid-subscriber-only post]

Regular readers of Always Be Watching will have heard references to a US streaming service called Pluto TV. It’s a different type of streaming service than what we’re used to. Most of us are used to the Netflix-style of model where everything is on-demand and served to us by algorithms. But that’s not what Pluto TV is.

Pluto TV is a digital version of old school TV. It’s a mix of linear streaming channels with some on-demand content. But the emphasis is very much on the 24/7 linear streaming channels.

The US version of Pluto TV is free to watch (it’s supported by advertising - just like regular linear TV), has over 250 channels, and is watched each month by 28.4 million people.

It may be hyperbole to say, but Pluto TV is the most exciting thing to happen to video streaming since Netflix rolled-out the first version of its app.

Get Pluto TV - Microsoft Store

Because we talk a fair bit about Pluto TV here at ABW, it seemed time to offer a thorough explainer about Pluto TV: What is it, what can you watch on it, and why is it so promising?

What can I watch?

The first thing you’ll notice is how much Pluto TV looks and feels just like a traditional cable TV service. There’s an EPG that you can scroll up and down that shows you what is currently playing. Click the listing and you can see information about that show and press enter to select the channel.

Channel surfing is back.

Like old-school cable TV, the channels on Pluto TV offer movie channels, sports, reality, lifestyle, general entertainment, news, etc.

Because it is completely digital, it’s relatively easy to launch and delete channels, which means Pluto TV regularly has pop-up channels and other novelties that keep the service feeling fresh and different.

The Pluto TV EPG

Currently Pluto TV offers:

  • Movies (22 channels) - these are themed into comedy, drama, romance, thrillers, etc, but also has a dedicated 007 Bond channel playing nothing but James Bond films
  • Entertainment (26 channels) - These are general entertainment channels like drama, sci-fi, British, etc, but there are a lot of channels that play nothing but the same show.

    The 90210 channel just plays old school Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and the 90210 reboot series. Meanwhile the Baywatch channel just screens Baywatch episodes - as I type this I can see they’re playing season 4 episodes.
  • News + Opinion (18 channels) - Traditional news brands like CNN just play clips of various news stories from the regular CNN US channel, but Newsmax is streaming the regular channel, as is Sky News UK, Bloomberg, Cheddar, and more.
  • Seasons Greetings (6 channels) - This is a pop-up for Christmas with channels streaming cheap Christmas movies and music videos. There’s also the requisite fireplace channel.
  • Reality (22 channels) - Exactly what you expect. Channels with shows like Storage Wars, Escaping Polygamy, Rescue 911, Love & Hip Hop, The Hills, Laguna Beach, etc. There are also dedicated channels streaming back-to-back shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, Wipeout (with US, UK, and Australian episodes streaming).
  • Crime (12 channels) - These are mostly dedicated channels showing back-to-back episodes of shows like CSI, DOG The Bounty Hunter, Midsomer Murders, and Unsolved Mysteries. It is also streaming Netflix drama Narcos on a dedicated channel.
  • Comedy (14 channels) - Here there are channels streaming stand-up comedy, along with Comedy Central shows like Detroiters, and other comedy chows like Married With Children. There are also channels dedicated to old movie alternate commentaries with Mystery Science 3000 and Rifftrax.
  • Classic TV (20 channels) - Probably my favourite section with dedicated channels for shows like The Love Boat, Mission: Impossible, Doctor Who, and Dark Shadows, but there’s also channels showing old Westerns. The best is a channel called Happy Days that just screens episodes of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy.
  • Home + DIY (17 channels) - Here you’ll find home shopping, home renovation, and channels featuring nothing but cute dogs and cats doing stuff. All day.
  • Escape (15 channels) - A collection of lifestyle and global travel shows. The most interesting inclusions here are Loupe, a channel that displays screensaver art work, and Slow TV which has a number of slow TV experiences from across the world.
  • Sports (20 channels) - If you’re looking for commentary shows and less-mainstream sports, this is going to be fine. As I type this there’s a replay of the 2019 STIHL Timbersports competition on.
  • Gaming + Anime (12 channels) - This section is dedicated to online culture with channels dedicated to games like Call of Duty and Roblox. There’s also video content from online mastheads IGN and CNET. There’s dedicated channels for shows like Naruto. The most interesting is one called TokuShoutSu that screens nothing but Japanese action adventure shows with costumed creatures punching each other.
  • Music (12 channels) - Live concerts, music videos, etc. The success of cable TV as a format was built off teenagers watching music videos. The irony here is that Pluto TV is likely mostly serving older people who were watching MTV when they were originally in their teens, 20s, and 30s.
  • Latino (24 channels) - This is a mix of unique Latino channels, but also alternate-language versions of other existing Pluto TV channels.
  • Kids (12 channels) - One of ViacomCBS’ best cable assets was Nickelodeon. These channels are built largely off that Nick archive. Totally Turtles (playing nothing but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Dora TV (with Dora The Explorer) are the only two program-specific themed channels.
  • Local (10 Channels) - This is built off the ever-expanding number of dedicated CBSN streams being developed for local markets. CBS is determined to own local news through its digital-only news service.

Who is behind Pluto TV and where can I stream it?

Pluto is owned by ViacomCBS and is currently in the US and UK, but in early 2021 there are confirmed plans to roll it out to Spain, Italy, and France. With ViacomCBS owning Australian broadcaster 10, it’s likely there’ll also be a launch down under sooner than later.

It launched back in 2013, but it is only with the purchase by ViacomCBS in Jan 2019 that Pluto TV got supercharged and is showing its real potential. It’s a perfect fit for a company like ViacomCBS which has been one of the world’s leading providers of content within the traditional cable TV environment. The problem for ViacomCBS is that a lot of its iconic legacy brands like MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon haven’t been successful at making the leap to digital. Also, it has a rich library of content that makes all the sense in the world on linear TV channels, but a lot of it doesn’t feel right on demand.

But now that ViacomCBS has Pluto TV, it suddenly has a platform to deliver this wealth of content in a way that again has audience appeal.

Why is Pluto TV interesting? Didn’t we decide linear channels were old and a dumb way to watch TV?

The reality is that most people don’t watch TV the way that they think they do.

Think about the way you watch TV now: You want to watch that movie or show on Netflix. But it’s a bit late. Or you know you can’t give it your full attention because you are also writing an email/scrolling Twitter/Facebook/etc. Whatever you press play on, you’re not going to give it your full attention and that very act is counter to the way we ideally want to engage with culture.

When you press play on something, you are making an active choice. It’s what is termed lean-forward television. But that’s not how most television has been watched in the past 70+ years. Lean-forward television is mostly a construction of the past decade. Before that, most TV was lean-back TV.

Too much time on the sofa watching TV could increase bowel cancer risk -  Chronicle Live
More TV is watched like this than we care to admit.

TV used to be you sitting on the couch staring mindlessly at the TV, flipping channels and watching the most interesting thing on at any given moment. It allows viewers to switch off and just lapse into whatever show is appealing at any given moment.

Is that the best way for you to be spending your time? No. Platforms like Netflix that promote an active decision is better. We should be more actively involved in our consumption. Choice is good. Choice improves stimulation. It keeps us all engaged.

But TV isn’t always about complete engagement with the screen. And Netflix is garbage for those moments where you want TV on, but you don’t want to be WATCHING television.

That’s where Pluto TV comes in. It’s filling the gap that was destroyed by Netflix. It brings the lean-back/falling asleep on the couch experience to online television.

Is there real money in this for ViacomCBS?

The trend was to follow Netflix into subscription services. Every big media company wanted its own Netflix which is ad-free and has a direct relationship with the customer and their credit card numbers.

But advertisers still have money and a desire to spend that money to advertise. In the first year of ownership, Pluto TV doubled its ad-revenue. With ad-revenue dropping everywhere else, this has ViacomCBS execs chuffed.

Plus audiences are now looking for cheap and/or free alternatives:

  • Not every TV viewer is happy to give up free broadcast TV in favor of a subscription service like Netflix. Sure, they’re relatively inexpensive, but some people just want a bit of a distraction every so often. That’s not worth $15 bucks a month.
  • Even those with a couple of subscriptions are happy to add into the mix some cheap/free services to increase their viewing choices/experiences.

The trend now is towards these Pluto TV-like services. In the biz they are termed FAST (Free Advertising Supported Television) services.

What can I actually watch on Pluto TV? Be specific.

Saving the best for last, this is a current list for all the channels available on the US version of Pluto TV:

Movies

Pluto 007
Pluto Spotlight
Action
Comedy
Drama
Pluto TV Fantastic
Romance
Pluto TV Crime Movies
Thrillers
Horror
TV Terror
Black Cinema
Pluto TV Staff Picks
Documentaries
90s Throwback
80s Rewind
70s Cinema
Paramount Movie Channel
CMT Westerns
Cult Films
Flicks of Fury
The Asylum

Pluto TV Preps 24/7 James Bond Pop-Up Channel Ahead Of New Movie Launch –  Deadline

Entertainment

Showtime Selects
TV Land Drama
Stories AMC
90210
Baywatch
Degrassi
Pluto TV Love Stories
Pluto TV Suspense
Star Trek
SCIFI
British TV
Nosey
Judge Nosey
The Price is Right
Deal or No Deal
Game Show Central
Demand Africa
Bet Pluto TV
Bet Her Pluto TV
MTV Pluto TV
CMT Pluto TV
Logo Pluto TV
ET Live
People TV
Awesomeness TV
Complex

News + Opinion

Pluto TV News
CBSN
CNN
NBC News Now
WeatherNation
Sky News (UK)
Bloomberg Television
Cheddar
CNET
BNC 24/7 (Black News Channel)
Top Stories by Newsy
Today
Newsmax TV
The Blaze Live
America’s Voice
OAN Encore
The First
TYT Network (The Young Turks)

Seasons Greetings

Christmas
Pluto TV Mistletoe
Home For The Holidays
Fireplace
Holiday Lights
Vevo Holiday

Reality

Reality
Lives
Recue 911
VH1 I Love Reality
Love & Hip Hop
VH1 Hip Hop Family
Black Ink Crew
Spike Pluto TV
Spike Outdoors
Hell’s Kitchen
Survivor
The Amazing Race
The Challenge
Fear Factor
American Gladiators
Wipeout
All Reality WE TV
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
Celebrity
MTV Dating
Pluto TV Drama Life
People Are Awesome

Crime

Pluto TV Crime Drama
CSI
Narcos
True Crime
COPS
Forensic Files
Cold Case Files
The New Detectives
Unsolved Mysteries
DOG The Bounty Hunter
Midsomer Murders
Court TV

The real DEA agents behind 'Narcos' | Guide

Comedy

Funny AF
TV Land Sitcoms
Wings
Slightly Off by IFC
Laugh Out Loud
Comedy Central Pluto TV
Comedy Central Stand Up
Stand Up
Tosh.0
Wild ‘N Out
MST3K
Rifftrax
AFV TV (America’s Funniest Videos)
Fail Army

Classic TV

Classic TV Comedy
Family Ties
Happy Days
One Day at a Time
Three’s Company
The Love Boat
The Addams Family
The Beverly Hillbillies
Johnny Carson TV
The Carol Burnett Show
The Bob Ross Channel
Classic TV Drama
Mission: Impossible
Western TV
The Rifleman
Doctor Who Classic
Dark Shadows
Buzzr
Shout Factory TV
Classic Toons

Happy Days, The Love Boat and More Classics Available for Free on Pluto TV  | PEOPLE.com

Home + DIY

Food TV
America’s Test Kitchen
Frontdoor
Dabl
Lively Place
The Design Network
This Old House
Antiques Roadshow UK
QVC
HSN
Pluto TV Best Life
Weddings
Cats 24/7
Dogs 24/7
The Pets Collective
Faith TV
TBN

On Now - The Pet Collective | XUMO

Explore

History
Military
Cars
Animals
Pluto TV Paranormal
Science
Adventure TV
Travel
Voyager Documentaries
AWE Encore
Chassy
NASA TV
Naturescape
Loupe
Slow TV

The Best Video Streaming Services for 2020 | PCMag

Sports

CBS Sports HQ
Fox Sports
NFL Channel
Major League Soccer
PGA Tour
PAC Insider
Pluto TV Sports
Fight
Bellator MMA
Impact Wrestling
Glory Kickboxing
Bein Sports Xtra
Fubo Sports Network
Stadium
Big Sky Conference
Pluto TV Back Country
Pursuit Up
Pluto TV Action Sports
Red Bull TV
WPT (World Poker Tour)

Gaming + Anime

Pluto TV Gamer
IGN
Gamespot
MicecrafTV
Gameplay Roblox
Gameplay Fortnite
Gameplay Sports
Gameplay Call of Duty
Anime All Day
Naruto
Yu-Gi-Oh!
TokuShoutSu

Music

Live Music Replay
CMT Equal Play
MTV Block Party
MTV Spankin’ New
MTV Biggest Pop
Yo! MTV
Vevo Pop
Vevo Reggaeton & Trap
Vevo R&B
Vevo Country
Vevo 70s
Hillsong Channel

Latino

Pluto TV 007
Cine Estelar
Cine
Cine Accion
Cine Terror
Nuestra Vision
The Walking Dead Espanol
Narcos En Espanol
Forensic Files En Espanol
Unsolved Mysteries En Espanol
Investiga
Telemundo Telenovelas Clasicas
Novelas Romance
Novelas Drama
Novelas Thriller
Spike Aventura
Realities En Espanol
Cocina
Mundo
Naturaleza
MTV Latino
Comedy Central Latino
Combate World
Lucha Libre Worldwide

Kids

Pluto TV Kids Animation
Nick Pluto TV
Nick Jr Pluto TV
Totally Turtles
Dora TV
Kids
After School Cartoons
Tween
Pocket Watch
Little Baby Bum
Nick Latino
Nick Jr Latino

4 Cable TV Replacements Under $30 - Techlicious

Local

CBSN Bay Area
CBSN Boston
CBSN Chicago
CBSN Dallas Ft Worth
CBSN Denver
CBSN Los Angeles
CBSN Minnestota
CBSN New York
CBSN Philly
CBSN Pittsburgh


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