The free, ad-supported media app Plex just added 80 live TV channels, none of them cable channels like CNN, Lifetime or TBS. Rather, it offers a lineup that includes Reuters, Toon Goggles and the Bob Ross Channel, among others. In the current economic climate, consumers are gravitating to this kind of free linear programming, which harkens back to the early days of television. Plex got its start as a cord-cutting solution with free on-demand video and DVR functionality for on-air TV networks.
Protocol reports that, “the Los Gatos-based startup has plans to add another 50 to 100 channels in the coming months.” “It becomes a dirt-cheap way to replace cable,” said co-founder and chief product officer Scott Olechowski.
Cinedigm, which is one of the companies that provides linear channels feeds to Plex, “only began developing linear channels a little over a year ago and already has 13.5 million monthly viewers.” Similarly, Comcast relied on Jukin Media to add two 24/7 channels – FailArmy and The Pet Collective — to its Xfinity set-top boxes.
“The success of companies like Jukin and Cinedigm in this space also demonstrates how 24/7 linear streaming can lower the barrier of entry for programmers,” says Protocol.
Pluto TV was a pioneer in the arena, but “the trend didn’t really take off until smart TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung began to incorporate these types of channels directly into their existing programming guides, placing them right next to broadcasters like ABC and CBS.” Protocol opines that, “the next step will be to marry those linear channels with on-demand assets, allowing viewers who stumble across a certain show to explore the rest of a season.”
Haystack News has done that, aggregating “personalized news channels [and] incorporating programming from 300 publishing partners, including local TV networks covering 90 percent of the U.S.” The smart TV apps “look and feel very much like a news network … [but] viewers can skip over individual clips, pick their own news sources, and dive deeper on topics they’re most interested in.”
Haystack streams 1 billion minutes of news each year and saw 145 percent growth in 2019, said co-founder Ish Harshawat.
TechCrunch reports that, “initially, Plex users will access the service from a new section called ‘Live TV on Plex’ … [which takes the viewer] to a more traditional grid guide that shows you what’s currently airing on each channel and what’s coming up in the hours ahead.” Users will not be able to record the shows or movies but Plex makes it “easy to customize the guide to your particular interests, by allowing you to do things like reorder channels to your liking or even hide those you don’t care about.”
Plex also plans to make 80+ percent of its channels available globally.
Programmatic advertising supports the free content as well as its on-demand Movies & TV library and free News, although “the company says it has no plan to directly sell its own ads for any of these properties.” Olechowski, however, said its revenue numbers are getting “interesting,” enabling Plex to “expand this footprint, the licensing we’re doing, the resources we’re putting into it, and the marketing we’re doing it around it.”