Pluto.tv Aims to Turn Online Video Into Lean-Back Experience

The Top 40 Countdown is one of more than a dozen channels on Pluto.tv devoted to music. 

As pervasive as online video seems to be, the amount of time people spend with YouTube and other video platforms remains a fraction of how long they spend watching good, old-fashioned television. 

Pluto.tv wants to change that. The West Hollywood startup is launching a "lean-back" viewing experience for online videos, where viewers can click on a channel and let it play until they switch channels or turn it off -- kind of like television.

The offering, available via iOS, Android, Chromecast and Web browsers, lets viewers select from about 100 channels curated by topic, with music currently taking up 13 channels. Other categories include news, travel, health, comedy, education, food, kids, surf and snow.

The company's curators program the channels with a selection of video from YouTube, as well as directly from content partners, including Funny or Die, IconicTV's Jay-Z's Life+Times show, the QVC home shopping channel, RocketJump, The Young Turks and others.

"With music, there's a leanback experience with Pandora, where you can just pick an artist, and the service does the rest," said Pluto.tv's Co-founder, Tom Ryan, who was senior vice president of digital strategy at EMI. "When we started the company, we asked why was there not a leanback experience for online video." 

Instead, much of online video is consumed after the viewer clicks on a link sent by a friend or goes searchng for a specific clip. Sometimes they hang around and watch a few more videos, but often they don't. As a result, hours spent watching online video are dwarfed by hours spent watching live television. Here are Nielsen's estimates on the amount of time viewers spent watching content by platform each month during the third quarter of 2013: 

  • Live TV: 133 hours, 49 minutes
  • Time-shifted TV: 13 hours, 12 minutes
  • Online Video on PCs: 6 hours, 41 minutes
  • Online Video on Mobile Devices: 5 hours, 48 minutes

"This indicates that there's a massive opportunity for online video to drive greater engagement," Ryan told Billboard.

Related

Pluto.tv’s list of angel investors and advisors reads like a directory of top digital media players. They include Nas and Anthony Saleh's Queensbridge Venture Partners; Terry Semel’s Windsor Media; Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of UTA; Avram Miller, founder of Intel Capital; Mich Mathews, former chief marketing officer of Microsoft Corp.; Chris Silbermann, president and partner of ICM; Greg Steiner, COO of Beachmint and former COO of eHarmony; Great Oaks Venture Capital; Dennis Phelps, general partner of Institutional Venture Partners; Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital; Tom Whalley, former CEO of Warner Bros. Records and co-founder of Interscope Records; Jamie Tarses, former president of ABC Entertainment; Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at UTA; David Waxman, managing partner of TenOneTen Ventures; and Jeremy Welt, Maker Studios' senior vice president of marketing.

The company, whose two other co-founders include Nick Grouf and Ilya Pozin, declined to disclose how much money it has raised.

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