Money at 30: Pluto TV Review — The Pros and Cons
These days, it feels as though everyone has at least a few streaming service subscriptions. While these memberships may only be a few dollars each, those costs can add up as more services join the fray and prices rise for many. However, there is at least one service you can enjoy without paying a dime: Pluto TV.
Pluto TV may not exactly be new, but I’ve noticed that the service has been steadily improving over time. Plus, on the heels of price increases and the introduction of ad-supported tiers to the platform, it seemed like an appropriate time to review Pluto in earnest. So what is Pluto and what does it offer? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.
Pluto TV and How it Works
What is Pluto?
Pluto TV is a free streaming service that serves up a variety of content, including movies and TV shows. Rather than investing in original content, the platform’s library has grown by acquiring the rights to existing programs and films. These include classic sitcoms, game shows, daytime TV favorites, a variety of movies, and more.
To tune into Pluto, viewers can visit Pluto.TV or download one of the platform’s apps (mobile, desktop, smart TV, or streaming device). From there, users will be able to scroll through a number of live streaming channels that resemble the linear channels we’re all familiar with on broadcast and cable TV — with the main difference being that some channels may be devoted to a single show or theme. In total, there are currently more than 200 of these live channels available.
Some of the live channel categories include:
- News + Opinions
- Game Shows
- Reality TV
- Classic TV
- Lifestyle + Culture
- Gaming + Anime
- En Espanol
- Local News
Beyond the live channels, Pluto does also offer on-demand content that spans many of the same categories and these programs are also free to stream.
Of note, in 2019, Viacom purchased Pluto TV. As a result, viewers may notice tie-ins with Paramount+ and CBS. Nevertheless, the company continued a commitment to keeping the service free.
The Upsides of Pluto TV
In a world where the prices of several streaming services are on the rise, isn’t it nice to have something free? Well, that’s exactly what Pluto offers. Regardless of whether you want to watch their live channels or on-demand items, you don’t have to pay for the service at all. Heck, you don’t even have to make an account if you don’t want to.
By comparison, Netflix’s new ad-supported plan is $6.99 a month, a basic Disney+ plan (with commercials) is currently $7.99 a month, and the lowest HBO Max tier is $9.99. Meanwhile, if you want to opt for higher tiers or bundled versions of these services, you could be looking at $10 to $20 a month instead. Thus, the fact that you can find some great content on Pluto without worrying about another monthly fee is a big reason why the platform is continuing to find success.
Variety of channels
I’ll tell you now that I’ve rarely not been able to find something to watch on Pluto. That’s because the service has a number of fun channels that really run the gamut of topics. Some of my favorites include the Sitcom Legends channel, which mostly features Frasier and Cheers. Elsewhere, Buzzr has been a long-time favorite as it airs a number of game shows from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
What’s also interesting is that Pluto has several show-specific channels. Ever wish you could watch the syndicated guilty pleasure Cheaters 24 hours a day? Well, now you can. Want something I bit more highbrow? Become a quiz pro by binging Jeopardy. For classic TV fans, Happy Days, Doctor Who, The Addams Family, Family Ties, and even The Love Boat get their own channels as well.
Turning to the on-demand content, I was actually surprised to see some of the movies that were available, such as personal favorites Mean Girls and Clueless. On the TV side, we’ve been revisiting Becker (a residual effect from watching Ted Danson on Cheers) and Newsradio is also an option — although only two seasons of the latter are currently features.
Overall, while Pluto TV might not have everything you’re looking for, it’s a pretty solid library for a free service. What’s more, the platform does continue to add new content, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.
While Pluto is probably most associated with the live channel they offer, the platform’s collection of on-demand content has also been growing. This includes a number of movies and TV shows that you select and watch much the way you would with other streaming services. Like with the live channels, commercial breaks are baked into these on-demand selections. Despite that, this is a great extra library to rely on in the event you can’t find anything to watch live.
Available on several devices
Finally, another benefit of Pluto TV I want to mention is that you can access the service on a number of devices. For one, on a desktop computer, you can simply go to the website to start watching. Outside of that, Pluto also offers mobile apps for iOS and Android, applications for a variety of smart TVs and streaming devices (Chromecast, Amazon Firestick, Roku, Apple TV, etc.), and has a Windows desktop app. While all of these interfaces may be a bit different, the content is the same across all of them, allowing you to find live content or select on-demand items. So, wherever you are, there’s a strong chance you’ll find a way to access Pluto and its entertainment offerings.
The Drawbacks of Pluto
Mostly live channel
Although Pluto does offer on-demand content, there’s no question that the main draw is its live programming. Of course, that’s an inherent drawback as it means you’ll need to watch certain shows or movies at certain times. Plus, there aren’t any DVR features on Pluto, so that means no pausing or rewinding. Personally, I actually kind of like the live format since I can just put something on without much thought, but I can imagine that this limitation is what will hold some people back from really giving Pluto a chance.
Commercials (and repetitive ones)
Since Pluto is free, they do need to make money in other ways. The solution? Good old-fashioned advertising — you know, like regular television has. The difference is that, as I’ve noticed, the ads on Pluto can be a bit repetitive at times. In addition to the handful of brands, you’ll regularly see spots promoting other Pluto channels and content. After a few hours of watching Pluto, depending on the channel you’re on, there’s a good chance you’ll already know all of the ad spots by heart, which can be a bit obnoxious.
Another somewhat odd element of Pluto that involves ads is how different channels handle breaks differently. For example, while the sitcom channel we watch fills in the normal ad breaks to make each episode last a half hour, we’ve noticed that others — such as the Wheel of Fortune channel — have shorter commercial breaks. That might sound like a good thing, but it actually creates a weird situation where there are eight minutes of a Pluto TV screensaver at the end of each episode before the next one begins. I’m not 100% sure why this is but it’s not my favorite setup.
Search function isn’t great
At long last, Pluto TV has added a search function to its site and apps to help users find content. Unfortunately, this search feature still isn’t quite up to snuff. In particular, if you’re looking for a show to see what channel it airs on, the search might not tell you unless the show itself is on at the particular moment. On the bright side, it does work half-decently for on-demand items, so that’s a plus. Still, I hope this is something they continue to work on.
Experience depends on your Internet connection
Going back to the live element of Pluto TV, one issue I had with the service in the past is that my spotty internet led to frustration with the platform. Whereas a temporary internet outage while watching Netflix might not cause issues or, at worst, would lead to a buffering pause, losing connection with Pluto means you’re missing part of your show right away. Luckily, I now have more reliable service so this isn’t an issue, but I’m sure this is still something that plagues users and could even make Pluto unwatchable for some.
Final Thoughts on Pluto TV
Overall, while Pluto TV might not exactly replace all of your existing streaming subscriptions, it does make for a great companion. In fact, I could see it filling a need for a number of viewers who care more about library content and not the latest, buzzy shows.
Of course, while the free aspect of the platform is the biggest draw, there are also some downsides. In particular, the live TV element is something that might not work well for those with spotty connections or want to have full control over what they’re watching. On the other hand, this format does add a fun level of discoverability and randomness that I appreciate. And, for those who just aren’t into live, the on-demand section of Pluto is improving.
Considering you don’t even need to create an account to start viewing, there’s really no reason not to at least go check out Pluto.tv and see what’s available. Who knows — you just might find yourself hooked. If so, perhaps you’ll be able to quit the big streaming services and save yourself some money.