Skip to main content

The Five Spot: Tom Ryan

Bonus Five

What are you binge-watching right now?Black Mirror
All-time favorite TV show?Curb Your Enthusiasm
Favorite podcast?Beats in Space, a weekly radio show on WNYU in New York featuring electronic musicians and DJs
What is your bucket list travel destination? Galapagos Islands
What book is loaded into your e-reader?The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won by Victor Davis Hanson

You can’t step onto the street in cities like Los Angeles lately without seeing billboards and banner ads on city buses for Pluto TV, the ad-supported video-on-demand platform that Viacom just bought for $340 million.

Indeed, it’s heady times for Tom Ryan, co-founder and CEO of the platform, which currently reaches 15 million users a month through more than 30 million smartphones, computers, OTT devices and smart TVs in the U.S. alone.

For a streaming company focused on serving high-quality longform content to 18-to-34-year-olds, getting bought by Viacom — which has been doing the same for decades, and has robust ad-tech resources to boot — spells a pretty good future.

B&C senior content producer, technology Daniel Frankel caught up to Ryan last week following Pluto TV’s NewFront presentation in New York.

How did you get involved with Pluto TV? I moved to L.A. in early 2013 so my wife and I could live near her parents as we had our first child. Ilya Pozin, a former business partner, approached me with an idea. He wanted to curate digital video into a lean-back, TV-like experience. There were so many great web videos out there, but it was hard to find the good stuff.

How has Pluto TV evolved over time? Pluto TV was born of the idea that TV did so many things right over the decades. It allowed you to simply lean back and be entertained. But it was also born of the idea that television needed a remix. It needed to be accessible on any device and easier to use. And, like broadcast television, it needed to be free and ad-supported. Initially, we built a minimal viable product (MVP) with thematic channels utilizing short-form digital content via the YouTube API. That allowed us to prove that great curation would lead to better viewer engagement. However, we quickly realized that long viewing sessions required premium content. We also discovered that true lean-back viewing in the Internet Age happened on the same device it always had — the TV in the living room.

What do you think made Pluto TV attractive to Viacom relative to other streaming platforms? First, we are the leader in free streaming television. We have over 15 million viewers with more than half between the ages of 18-34. Second, Pluto TV recognized early on that building the future of TV meant taking the best of what made television great historically and updating it. While we have a robust on-demand selection, Pluto TV leads with linear, interest-based channels, which no other scaled provider offers. Third, we established key partnerships on major streaming platforms like Roku and Amazon Fire TV, where we are consistently a top free app. And we developed proprietary audience solutions with Pluto TV Built-In where we embed a form of Pluto TV in the leading top smart TV platforms.

Will Pluto TV ever have originals? While we don’t currently have ‘original content,’ we do have ‘original channels.’

How does Pluto TV differentiate itself from other AVOD services? We’re the category leader with over 15 million viewers. We create original, lean-back channels that keep viewers engaged. And we’re not only a top app on all platforms where we compete, but we’re built into top hardware platforms as the default free-TV service.