A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Pluto TV: Explainer
Going linear for fun and profit
[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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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)
Christmas Pluto TV Mistletoe Home For The Holidays Fireplace Holiday Lights Vevo Holiday
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
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
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 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
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
History Military Cars Animals Pluto TV Paranormal Science Adventure TV Travel Voyager Documentaries AWE Encore Chassy NASA TV Naturescape Loupe Slow TV
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
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
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
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
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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