Can Pluto TV’s Expansion Be Powered by Library Content Alone? A Chat With International Chief Olivier Jollet

Can Pluto TV’s Expansion Be Powered by Library Content Alone? A Chat With International Chief Olivier Jollet

Paramount’s free, ad-supported service Pluto TV has landed in Canada with its biggest content offering ever at launch outside of the U.S. market.

But Olivier Jollet, executive vp and international general manager for Pluto TV, tells The Hollywood Reporter the latest local market launch for the FAST channel is part of an ambitious global rollout.

“Obviously our vision is to entertain the planet and the planet is big. So today we’re launching in Canada and that’s an incredible moment for us and a very special launch. But we will keep our expansion going,” Jollet said as Paramount debuted Pluto TV with 117 thematic and single-series channels curated from its own library, and series from Canadian partner Corus Entertainment and other global media partners.

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As elsewhere internationally, Paramount will promote Paramount+ on Pluto TV to drive new subscriptions to its subscription video-on-demand service already available to Canadians. And the Canadian launch also underlines a trend where local broadcasters like Corus increasingly partner with online aggregators like Pluto TV to reach cord-nevers and cord-cutters opting for SVODs like Netflix and Disney+.

Jollet also told THR that, while the Canadian launch doesn’t necessarily gets Pluto TV closer to producing its own original series beyond library content, “original content doesn’t mean always scripted dramas,” and his Hollywood studio knows the value of producing new series in Canada should it begin making its own originals.

And Jollet also talked about how Pluto TV will respond should Canada, as is expected, pass into law Bill C-11, which would obligate U.S. digital platforms like his own to subsidize local Canadian film, TV and music product. “In every country where we go, we comply with the different laws and make sure we are bringing what is needed to each market. And that applies as well for Canada,” he told THR.

You’ve launched Pluto TV elsewhere beyond the U.S. market before coming to Canada, most recently in Nordic markets. What have you learned so far that you can leverage launching north of the border?

With Canada, we’re live in more than 35 markets across the world. Pluto TV launched in 2014. And more precisely on April Fool’s Day. And people thought then we were fools because the conventional wisdom was that the future of TV will be SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) only. Fast forward to today and Pluto TV is in 35 markets and we have more than 72 million active monthly active users. Last year we reached a big milestone of $1 billion in ad revenues, and in a pretty short time. And we didn’t know when we first launched outside the U.S. whether FAST (free, ad-supported television), as well call it, was only a U.S. phenomenon. There was a cord cutting movement in the U.S. And the first markets we entered were the UK and Germany, which are very big free TV markets. But what was fascinating is the KPIs (key performance indicators), the engagement, the watch time for users, were actually exactly the same in all these countries. That showed that FAST was not only a U.S., but a global phenomenon. We are actually trying to solve the problem of choice by curating content into linear, thematic channels. And that has been one of the key successes of Pluto TV, of trying to bring in this ease of use, this best of TV and best of Pluto into one very innovative product.

You are launching Pluto TV in Canada with over 110 thematic channels, which marks the biggest initial content offering ever for a new market outside the U.S. That’s a big bet on Canada.

It is indeed the most robust content offering we have ever had at launch. We are launching to be more precise 117 channels and altogether more than 20,000 hours of content available for free in Canada. That is thanks obviously to our partnership with Corus Entertainment, where we’re able to bring out the best of international content coming both from Paramount, but also from the foreign content partners already working with us and adding all the great local content from Corus. So that’s really helps us shape an incredible content offering for Pluto.  

Should we be looking at this latest Pluto TV launch outside the U.S. as less about Canada – though it’s an important market in itself – and more about Pluto TV looking to penetrate and conquer the entire worldwide streaming space?

Yes. Obviously our vision is to entertain the planet and the planet is big. So today we’re launching in Canada and that’s an incredible moment for us and a very special launch. But obviously we will keep our expansion going. We announced already that we will be entering Australia next year. But we also like launching in new continents, expanding further in Europe as well. We are now covering the entire Americas continent with Canada. There’s more to come. And as I’ve said before, we see that in this really crowded content environment, audiences across the world are seeking viewing experiencea that are easy and seamless. We believe that to Pluto TV can and will be successful in way more countries. So it’s still the beginning.

Paramount+ is already in Canada. Will Pluto TV be used to promote that brand and drive new subscribers to your SVOD?

Yes, we are building an ecosystem and a look at the market research shows that, by 2024, half of revenue from streaming will come from advertising and half will come from subscriptions. And we’re a media company that decided early on to invest both in paid streaming with Paramount+, formerly CBS All Access, where you have all the more original content, scripted series like Yellowstone and Tulsa King. And at the same time we’re investing in free streaming and, yes, we are trying to build bridges between the two platforms. Sometimes we will premiere the first episode on Pluto as we try to attract users to go afterwards and subscribe to watch more on Paramount+. But what is also important is at Paramount Global we’re sitting on one of the largest content libraries with iconic brands and IP. And having two platforms helps us to monetize this amazing content in a different way.

Pluto TV relies heavily on the CBS library. And CBS shows are already widely viewed in Canada, not least via Corus’s Global network. How will you get Canadians to view Pluto TV after seeing so much CBS fare elsewhere?

Yes there’s a lot of CBS content that works well, iconic shows with huge fan bases. And we’re bringing this content for free, and creating dedicated channels for that IP. So if you want to binge watch NCIS, you can do that. Or you can watch older shows like Happy Days and Love Boat. But we have way, way more than CBS content. We are leveraging the entire library from Paramount. We have unique content, we have the Corus content, we have sport channels. It’s a very broad offering, trying to address different audiences and offer something for everyone. And we’re trying to serve audiences underserved by traditional broadcasters.

Legislation in Bill C-11 is moving through the Canadian Parliament that would obligate U.S. online platforms like Pluto TV to contribute to Canadian content production. How would you respond if that legislation passes into law?  

We are watching closely. What is important is through our partnership with Corus we’re offering amazing local content. Among the 117 channels, there’s 30 to 40 channels based on local content. In every country where we go, we comply with the different laws and make sure we are bringing what is needed to each market. And that applies as well for Canada.

Pluto TV doesn’t yet offer its own original series. Does launching in Canada get you closer to deciding to commission your own originals?

First, we don’t have original content. I’m a strong believer in the power of library content. And you can see that, even on the biggest streaming services, the most-watched content isn’t always the original content. You can see a series like Friends has been breaking records online. And those are old shows or classic libraries, which we do have on Pluto. There is a huge need for this content. The second point is the more scripted dramas will be under the paywall on Paramount+. But original content doesn’t mean always scripted drama. And while we don’t have originals now, I don’t know where the market is going. It’s difficult to say we will never have originals, but I don’t feel we need originals as of now, on the platform, to make it a very appealing platform for consumers.  

So your first originals, if you go that way, may be unscripted shows?

What I’m saying is, the kind of scripted dramas we’re talking about are expensive. It’s more difficult to think about those kinds of shows now.  But the market is evolving fast. We are anticipating half the revenue coming from ad-supported streaming, the other half coming from subscriptions. The more the market grows, the more likely originals may come. And importantly at Paramount, where we’re producing so much content, it’s all about the windowing strategy. It’s really about optimizing that windowing strategy. I can’t see in the future, but I will not say it will never happen.

Again, should you decide to make originals, would you make them in Canada where there’s currency and tax credits on hand to foreign producers?

Well, we are already producing in Canada. We all know  it’s an interesting market for production. But again, I don’t know the answer in the sense that we have no plan as of now to commission any originals. In the future, if we do, it may be in Canada or somewhere else. I don’t know. But we know how attractive Canada is as a production market.