Paramount’s Pluto TV FAST Success a Streaming Case Study

As global streaming leader Netflix retools its business model to accommodate a less expensive, ad-supported subscription tier, the industry is turning its attention to FAST service (free ad-supported streaming television). It’s part of the process of accommodating linear television for the streaming age. Pluto TV, a division of Paramount Global, managed to hit the $1 billion revenue mark last year without any paying subscribers and tallied over 64 million monthly active users as of December 2021. Not too shabby for a service that was not taken very seriously when it launched on April Fool’s Day 2014.

In January 2019, Paramount parent Viacom purchased Pluto from founder Tom Ryan for just $340 million. At the time, Viacom was merging with CBS to rebrand as Paramount Global and was able to bring Pluto into its orbit for only about 1 percent of merged entity’s market cap, a deal that now seems prescient. Ryan was named president and CEO of streaming for Paramount Global in March 2020.

“Pluto is no dwarf in the streaming universe and neither is FAST,” writes IndieWire, citing  a recent Variety Intelligence Platform report that projects the rapidly growing U.S. FAST market will be “worth between $5.3 billion to $6.1 billion by 2025,” an increase of between 646 percent and 763 percent when compared to 2019.

“According to eMarketer, the value of the entire linear and connected TV industry will exceed $93 billion that same year,” IndieWire says.

When Ryan launched Pluto TV eight years ago, the streaming business “was entirely on-demand, paid-subscription, and ‘advertising was going the way of the dodo,’” Ryan told IndieWire. The company initially used YouTube’s API, but today “it’s a popular drop-in service (go to pluto.tv and content starts playing — no registration required),” says IndieWire, describing “hundreds of ‘live,’ linear channels with a robust on-demand library” available through the service.

All that equated to about 4 percent of linear-channel advertising for Pluto, according to IndieWire, defining the category as “actual linear TV plus FAST streaming.” Also competing for a slice of the FAST pie are Fox’s Tubi TV and Amazon’s Freevee (recently rebranded from IMDb TV). NBC’s Peacock, as well Sling TV and The Roku Channel, also offer ad-supported streaming tiers free to consumers.

Varous smart TV manufacturers — among them Samsung, LG and Vizio — offer white-label FAST tiers integrated in their menus.