As Planet Earth Turns to Streaming Video, ViacomCBS Aims for Pluto (TV)

Prior to Viacom’s re-merger with CBS Corp., the media giant had scant over-the-top video properties. Now with the addition of CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, the company claims about 16 million paying subscription streaming subscribers.

That’s 20% less than the 20 million monthly viewers who stream content for free on Pluto TV — the San Francisco-based ad-supported VOD service Viacom acquired earlier this year for $340 million.

That user tally reflects a 70% year-over-year gain in consumer traction for Pluto and underscores Viacom’s strategic move to compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and other high-profile SVOD services with old-school ad-supported content.

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“Our focus on an investment in Pluto is evident,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said on the recent fiscal call. “In Q4 alone, Pluto launched 43 new channels and last month, Pluto Latino added 11 new channels given the platform of total 22 channels with over 4,000 hours of Spanish and Portuguese language programming.”

The opportunity for Pluto TV Latino is significant given the size of the Hispanic population, as well as gaps within the existing programming landscape. As the largest minority market, the group has a combined buying power of $1.5 trillion, according to research from the University of Georgia.

The once-dominant Spanish-language broadcast network, Univision, has been steadily losing viewers for years and has been locked in a battle with Comcast-owned Telemundo for younger, bilingual viewers. Meanwhile, streaming services such as Hulu, Sling, and fuboTV offer Spanish-language content, but the additional cost of these services is leading to “subscription fatigue.”

“There are all sorts of creative programming ideas we can test with the audience that hasn’t been done before,” Tom Ryan, co-founder and CEO of Pluto TV, said. “If they work, we can be nimble and double down on them.”

Indeed, AVOD revenue is projected to more than double between 2018 and 2024, topping $56 billion across 138 countries — including the U.S.

Next year, NBC Universal is launching an ad-supported streaming service dubbed “Peacock,” which joins industry players such Tubi TV, which bowed in 2014 with more than 9,000 movies and television shows, Amazon’s IMDb TV and The Roku Channel, among others.

“The U.S. will more than triple its AVOD revenue total between 2018 and 2024 to $19.23 billion — or 34% of the global total,” said Simon Murray, analyst with Digital TV Research.

Bakish said Viacom would continue to grow Pluto TV distribution globally and on new platforms, which he said would benefit both viewers and business partners.

He said Pluto has not only been a driver to restoring overall Viacom ad sales growth, it’s also been a platform to enable Viacom to “radically” increase the number of clients it does business with.

“In the crowded subscription universe, as consumers become increasingly more value conscious, we strongly believe that having the leading free streaming service in the country and over time, the world is a huge competitive advantage,” Bakish said.

 

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