Plex today is launching its own ad-supported streaming service, a rival to The Roku Channel, Tubi, Crackle, Vudu's Movies on Us and others that offer a way to stream movies and TV for free without a subscription. The service will feature several thousand movies and shows from studios like MGM, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, Lionsgate and Legendary -- deals which were previously announced leading up to today's launch.
Though there are plenty of similar offerings on the market, what makes Plex's new streaming service unique is its broad availability. Unlike many competitors, Plex has structured its deals in order to stream content outside the U.S. Plex told TechCrunch the majority of its content will stream in some 220 countries worldwide. This immediately makes it the largest ad-supported video service, in terms of reach -- if you're not counting platforms for user-generated video, like YouTube.
Like other free streaming services, Plex's free content won't require a subscription or any other commitments, but will instead be fully supported by ads.
Today, the service will feature both pre-roll ads and traditional ad breaks, but Plex promises an ad load that's 50%-60% less than what you'd otherwise find on broadcast television. Currently, Plex is leveraging ad network partnerships to sell these ads, but says it may move into direct sales in 2020.
The service itself lives right within Plex's media organization software. This app has evolved over the years to become more than just a DIY media player for home media. Today, Plex organizes your own media collections alongside podcasts, web shows, streaming news and music courtesy of a TIDAL partnership. The free, ad-supported content will now appear on the Plex sidebar under a new "Movies & TV" heading.
In this section, the content is organized in a somewhat Netflix-style layout, with image thumbnails for easy browsing and hubs for finding popular, trending or genre-specific content, for example.
Plex has also introduced several editorially curated hubs, as well as those personalized to the user, based on their cross-platform, cross-content watch history.
In total, there are around 70 hubs that could potentially show up here, Plex says.
Meanwhile, clicking through to each title will show you details like genre, rating, year, length, description and even critic scores and audience ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, among other metadata. The titles will stream in 1080p and you can mark items as played, as you can with personal media.
Sample titles available at launch include a number of classics, cult classics and even award winners, like "Rain Main," "The Terminator," "Overboard," "Frequency," "Evil Dead" (1 & 2), "Teen Wolf," plus music concerts and documentaries featuring Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Deadmau5, and more.
The content is available across Plex platforms, including Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, smart TVs,
Android and iOS mobile platforms, Xbox, PlayStation, Amazon Fire TV and others.
"Plex was born out of a passion for media and entertainment, and offering free ad-supported premium movies and TV shows is just the latest step in our mission to bring all your favorite content together in one place," said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement. "What started more than a decade ago as a passion project to make accessing media on connected devices easier has evolved into the most comprehensive streaming platform in the industry, used by millions of people around the world," he added.
TechCrunch first broke the news regarding Plex’s plans to enter the ad-supported movies market back in January, when it described a strategy similar to that of The Roku Channel.
Today, Plex has 15 million registered households using its service. Though the service is profitable, the percentage of customers who pay for its advanced features through a Plex Pass subscription is much smaller. That's driven Plex to find new ways to generate revenue from its free users -- and ad-supported content is an obvious choice, in that case.