Amy Kuessner established herself in satellite TV, spending eight years at DirecTV, and was assessing the next stage of her career. She stumbled upon streamer Pluto TV and found herself intrigued by its unique set of offerings.
“I was incredibly impressed by their value proposition,” Kuessner said. “Particularly at a time when the entire marketplace was going VOD [video-on-demand] and paid, Pluto was free and linear. I thought that was an interesting business model.”
Kuessner came on board as VP of content partnerships at Pluto TV five years ago. ViacomCBS acquired Pluto for $340 million early in 2019, and today Kuessner is senior VP, content strategy & global partnerships, ViacomCBS Streaming.
“Drop in,” goes the motto that greets users. “Watch free.” Pluto offers a live TV schedule across a wide range of channels, video-on-demand ranging from James Bond movies to more current films such as The Big Short, and TV ranging from classic series such as The Honeymooners and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to contemporary stuff like Hell’s Kitchen.
Pluto does not offer original content, but Kuessner stressed that it does offer loads of original channels. There are around 250 of them, focused on action movies, crime, food, romance and other categories.
“We really believe in the lean-back viewing experience,” Kuessner said. “Drop in and find a variety of content.”
Kuessner is focused on acquiring content for Pluto, and developing its channel strategy. In October, Pluto premiered seasons 1-5 of the Netflix hit Narcos. Last year, it added seasons 1-5 of The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead Español, and seasons 1-3 of Fear the Walking Dead. A summer blockbuster movie campaign, including The Hunger Games and Selma, is set to launch. Kuessner said Pluto relaunched its block of Hispanic channels, debuting nearly 50 channels in May, and will increase its children’s programming.
Movies, including those from Pluto’s Paramount sibling, do well on the service, as does classic TV, such as Three’s Company and The Love Boat. “What’s old is new again,” said Kuessner. “People are gravitating back to the programming they knew years ago.”
The Pluto TV sweet spot is users 25-44. Kuessner sees the platform as a companion to some pay TV services and a replacement for others. “We have a fair amount of news and movies and CBS shows,” she said. “That could be an accompaniment to an SVOD service or a replacement to cable.”
Kuessner was hopping on a plane in Denver every week to work in Los Angeles. That onerous commute is on hold amidst the pandemic, and she’s enjoying time with her husband, 11-year-old daughter and two miniature schnauzers, and fine-tuning her culinary skills. Cooking is both a good and bad hobby, Kuessner said. “It’s good because I love tasting different types of food,” she said. “It’s bad because I eat too much.”
Crafting Win-Win Scenarios
Jeff Schultz, chief strategy officer and chief business development officer at ViacomCBS Streaming, said Kuessner is effective in her role because she consistently irons out partnerships where both parties benefit. “Amy is a very tough negotiator and a very savvy businesswoman,” he said. “She’s so successful because we have 250 content partners, and all of them are happy.”
Both part of ViacomCBS Streaming Division, Pluto and Paramount Plus are increasingly working to benefit the group. Pluto offers the Hannibal series, which has helped promote the CBS drama Clarice, also part of the Silence of the Lambs universe, and will offer the Hannibal movie this summer.
“We are actively working with all divisions of the company on how to upgrade users and move users through the ecosystem,” Kuessner said.
She’s pleased with her assessment of the TV market, and her job prospects in it, from five years ago. “Something I believed would have a unique position in the marketplace turned out to be true,” Kuessner said.
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