Pluto TV is a free streaming service owned by ViacomCBS, which is the parent company of several popular film companies and television production networks.
The service offers content from popular networks like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV through live video streaming channels and on-demand functionality. It is offered without a monthly subscription fee. Instead, Pluto TV makes money off the advertising it is able to sell during these streaming broadcasts.
Is it possible to rely on a network like Pluto TV to be a realistic substitute for subscription live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live or Sling TV? That’s what we set out to find out in this Team Clark review.
Table of Contents
For the purposes of this review, I downloaded the Pluto TV app on my Roku, Android and iOS devices to compare functionality and performance. I also used the Pluto TV web player, which is accessible through the official website without signup.
What Is Pluto TV?
Pluto TV is a free live-stream television and on-demand video service from ViacomCBS. It has more than 75 unique live channels that stream content — with commercial breaks — at no charge to the consumer.
Content providers range from Viacom properties like MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central to major news platforms like NBC, CBS and CNN.
How to Watch Pluto TV
Pluto TV is accessible through mobile, streaming and web applications with no requirement for viewers to sign up in order to see content.
The Signup Process is Optional
There’s no need for credit card information with Pluto TV. In fact, the service doesn’t ask for any information as a part of the signup process. Whether using an app or the web-based player, the Pluto TV content starts streaming without prompting you for even as much as an email address.
That said, Pluto TV does offer the ability to create an account so that you can set favorite channels and resume watching on-demand content from a different device. Since much of the Pluto TV platform is based upon easily searchable live streams, this is more of a luxury than a necessity.
Devices and Apps
For television streaming purposes, Pluto TV is compatible with the following devices:
- Apple TV
- Android TV
- Amazon Fire TV
- Google Chromecast
- Sony Smart TVs
- Samsung Smart TVs
- Vizio Smart TVs
Pluto TV also has a streaming web player that is accessible through Mac and Windows laptop or desktop computers.
Content Available to Stream on Pluto TV
With more than 75 free live streaming television channels, Pluto TV offers a wide variety of content. It also has on-demand movies and TV series available for streaming. For ease of understanding the menu of options, we have broken down some of the more popular offerings by genre:
- NBC News
- Best of The Today Show
- Bloomberg Television
- Cheddar News
- Newsmax TV
- Top Stories by Newsy
- Court TV
With brands like CBSN, you are able to access the full 24-hour news channel. Others, like CNN, offer recorded content that may be hours or even days old. Rather than full runs of news programming, networks opting to use the CNN model on this platform are showing shorter, condensed clips of news broadcasts or commentary.
- Fox Sports
- NFL Channel
- Major League Soccer
- RedBull TV
It is important to note that you’re not going to find much in the way of live sporting events on Pluto TV. Nearly all of the sports channels are of the highlight or analysis variety. Major live sporting events — like those that air on ESPN — are not available on this platform and will almost always require a subscription service.
- Comedy Central (Comedy Central-Pluto TV and Comedy Central Stand Up)
- MTV (MTV-Pluto TV, MTV Dating and MTV Teen)
- Nickelodeon (Nick-Pluto TV and Nick Jr.-Pluto TV)
- VH1 (VH1-I Love Reality and VH1-Hip Hop Family)
- Entertainment Tonight (ET Live)
- Spike TV (Spike-Pluto TV and Spike Outdoors)
- CMT (CMT-Pluto TV)
- BET (BET-Pluto TV and BET Her)
- TV Land (TV Land-Sitcoms)
These are recognizable names in the traditional cable TV game but it is important to note that you’re not getting the actual full channel for Comedy Central or Nickelodeon. Instead, you’re seeing a streaming channel that features some of the content you’re familiar with from those platforms. For instance, the Comedy Central-Pluto TV channel may be airing full episodes of current shows like Tosh.0 that are a few years old. You’ll need access to the full channels via subscription elsewhere if you want to stream new episodes.
Popular On-Demand Movies
In addition to its live streaming channels, Pluto TV also offers on-demand streaming options. These are available at your leisure and do not have to be watched live.
You’ll notice some pretty recognizable mainstream movie titles that include major stars like Will Smith and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But you’ll probably also notice that the release dates on most of the films in the content library are years or even decades old. Here are some examples:
- The Big Short
- The Legend of Bagger Vance
- Basic Instinct
- King of New York
- The Terminator
- American Beauty
- The Weatherman
- World Trade Center
- Black Snake Moan
- The Dead Zone
Popular On-Demand TV Shows
If you’re into reality series, there are several big-names that are available for streaming on this platform. Here are a few of the more recognizable TV series available in the Pluto On-Demand TV collection:
- Duck Dynasty
- Ice Road Truckers
- Storage Wars
- Cold Case Files
- Mountain Men
- 3rd Rock from the Sun
- Dog the Bounty Hunter
- American Pickers
- Grounded for Life
Pluto TV is not in the original content business, though the way some of the content is presented on the platform does appear unique. Instead of making its own original content, Pluto TV is licensing content from more than 75 providers. This content is presented on customized channels that creates an original experience on Pluto TV.
If you’re afraid you might miss the feel of the cable TV interface, I have some good news: Pluto TV mimics that experience with menus and channel surfing capabilities that will remind you of satellite or cable.
How Bad Are the Ads?
Watching the live channels on Pluto TV is going to be very similar to that of an over-the-air television channel in terms of the number and duration of commercial breaks.
I sat down to watch a few episodes of live streaming content on one of the leading channels on Pluto TV and came away with the following data on the advertisements and commercial breaks:
- For a typical 30-minute streaming time slot, you can expect to have approximately four commercial breaks.
- During those breaks, you’re likely to see as many as six advertisements that range from 20 to 30 seconds each.
- Pluto TV doesn’t have a huge problem with repetitive commercials, but be ready to see quite a few cross-promotional ads for content that is available on other Pluto TV channels.
- Sometimes the commercial breaks would end with 5-10 seconds of a screen that says “We’ll be right back” — but not always.
I also charted some commercials from their on-demand section.
One episode of Roseanne had a 26:37 runtime, which is more than three minutes less than you’d expect during a typical 30-minute time slot on traditional television. There were four commercial breaks, but they each had just three advertisements and lasted just 1:15 for a total of five minutes worth of commercials.
The user interface is actually pretty straightforward. It felt familiar, even though I had never used it prior to this review.
First, let’s look at the mobile experience. You’ll notice that the live channels are viewable while you’re searching the guide for content.
You can expand to a full-screen view by clicking on the video or simply by turning your phone from the vertical to horizontal position.
As you’ll notice at the bottom of the screen, you can toggle from live television to on-demand by clicking the “Movies & Shows” tab.
One of the options I really liked was the ability to sort the live channels by genre. As you’ll notice on the screenshot below, the default channel guide viewing setting was for “All Channels.” Clicking on that box, you’re able to unlock the ability to sort channels by subject.
I also found it interesting (you may find it helpful or perhaps annoying) that the phone app pretty regularly sent me push notifications when there was content it presumed I may have an interest in viewing.
Here’s an example of what that looked like:
Finally, I also found the web version of the product pretty easy to navigate. It was similar enough to the mobile app that I didn’t get lost upon switching between the two.
Tips for Enjoying Pluto TV
Has some of the available content caught your attention? If so, here are some tips for enjoying it on Pluto TV:
- Set It and Forget It: Like a TV experience from yesteryear, you will have no DVR functionality on the live streams for Pluto TV. So, once you decide on a channel with content you want to see for the next 30 or 60 minute block, you might as well put the remote away and get comfortable. There’s no pause or rewind.
- Opt-in for the User Account: I’m not one to tell you to sign up for something you’re not required to sign up for, but it is worth it if you’re going to use Pluto TV as a main source of streaming entertainment. Being able to set favorites for channels and order them as you desire is an easy time-saving win if you’re going to be spending hours on the platform.
Final Thoughts on Pluto TV
Still trying to decide whether or not you should add Pluto TV to your streaming portfolio? Here are some pros and cons to think over:
Pluto TV: Pros and Cons
|FREE!||Very few “brand new” episodes of popular content|
|Cable-like experience with recognizable brands and content||Truncated versions of major TV channels|
|Solid titles in on-demand movies and TV show section||No DVR functionality on live streams|
Bottom Line: If you have decided that you’re going to quit paying for cable TV and subscription streaming services, I think Pluto TV needs serious consideration as a part of your free streaming content mix. There is a strong selection of cable-worthy content on this platform and the barrier to giving it a trial run is extremely low. Try it out!
Do you have experience watching the Pluto TV streaming service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!