Pluto TV: It’s Time to Tell Our Advertising Story

Rich Calacci, Pluto TV’s first chief revenue officer, says his priority is crystal clear as he settles into the new job – create awareness among major brands and ad buyers of the business opportunities that’s now available via the free, linear-style OTT service.  

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“My number one priority is getting that story to market, not only to get more people on the platform, which I think will happen organically, but to make sure that advertisers are aware of the business opportunities at Pluto TV,” said Calacci, who previously held the same title at Turner-owned Bleacher Report, and had also served as SVP of Turner Sports. 

Pluto TV is not yet broadcasting to the entire world precisely what that story is today, in terms of usage. In Q4 2016, the service said it had crossed 5 million monthly active users, with Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan telling Multichannel News last May that Pluto TV is “way north of that now.”  

In the “old days” (circa 2010 in this context), an OTT service had to tout a reach of at least 1 million to 2 million people, Calacci said. “That ante’s been quintupled.”  

Pluto TV, which has been expanding its lineup and content partners, delivers more than 100 free, ad-based content channels on several platforms, including Roku players, web browsers, Android TV devices and PlayStation and Xbox consoles, among others. 

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Calacci believes that Pluto TV and its curated, linear-style approach using a blend of content from the digital-only and traditional TV worlds can fulfill an important need for advertisers as traditional TV audiences continue to fragment against a surge of OTT video options, including many that are ad-free.  

“The advertiser’s need has not shrunk,” Calacci said. “Their need has actually increased because now they have a more fragmented marketplace by which to tell their story. Having an option like Pluto TV is a huge advantage to them.”  

But Pluto TV’s job now is to sell that story to ad buyers and chief marketing officers, as the service has traditionally been sold through partnership agreements, platform agreements or programmatically.  

The opportunity ahead is bigger, and the plan now is to start selling toward the top 500 brands, Calacci said, noting that Pluto TV offers advertisers “contextual targeting” by clustering its content channels into genres and categories.  

While that will mean selling to key, lucrative segments like the automotive industry, Pluto TV also sees opportunities’ selling to traditional programmers that could use the OTT platform to inform younger audiences about their new programs.  

“Television tune-in is a key part of our business,” he said. “They have to create a lot of noise about the start of a new series or a show. As a category, I think there’s a huge potential there.”  

To help tell the story across those targeted segments, Pluto TV is building out its sales offices, starting in New York and Los Angeles, and then establishing presences in Chicago and, eventually, in Detroit.  

Though Pluto TV is offering a new tool to advertisers, its business is largely centered on 15- and 30-second spots, thought its ad load per hour is far lower than what’s seen with traditional TV, though even that arena is being forced to reconfigure their ad loads.  

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Large ad loads that are also saddled with local insertions has created an experience that “is almost untenable” to consumers who are used to ad-free SVOD services from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. “It’s too stark a contrast…There’s far too much commercial interruption in the [TV] viewing experience.”  

On the local side, Pluto TV does have an automated, local ad insertion style product that provides billboard-like content about local weather and news updates that are distributed intermittently based on the user’s location.  

Interactive advertising might also become part of the playbook at Pluto TV, but that opportunity is further out, and not something that the service will be focused on this year.