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Plex launches its free, ad-supported streaming service, no Plex server needed

Today, Plex launched its free, ad-supported video streaming service, with a collection of thousands of movies, TV shows, concerts, and documentaries that can be streamed on any device that has the Plex app, or on the web. Available in more than 200 countries, Plex claims the new service will only show a third as many ads as viewers have come to expect from traditional broadcasters.

Plex has been gradually adding major studios to its list of content partners for the service, which now include MGM, Legendary, Lionsgate, and Warner Bros. The result is a list of movies and shows that go beyond the B-movie rankings you might expect from a free service, with titles such as Rain Man, The Terminator, Thelma & Louise, Leaving Las Vegas, Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now, and The Usual Suspects.

Plex - Stream it your way with 1000s of free movies & TV shows

Not all titles will be available in all locations, and that’s pretty standard for any streaming service. However, the disparity between the U.S. market and a country like Canada, for instance, is a big one. Of the list of marquee movies above, none were available outside of the U.S. at launch. Plex tells Digital Trends that it is working to grow the worldwide catalog as well, and new updates will be rolled out regularly.

The free streaming experience on Plex is something of a departure for the company, which has traditionally focused on helping people organize and watch their collection of privately owned movies, shows, music, and photos. Plex users normally have to install and run a Plex server — the software that does the media organization as well as the reformatting needed to make sure those movies play correctly on the various devices that have the Plex app.

The new service (which Plex refers to as AVOD or “ad-supported video on demand”) doesn’t require a Plex server. Simply open the Plex app that is preinstalled on your smart TV or streaming device (or download and install it for free) and start browsing the collection of movies and shows. You’ll need to create a free Plex account, but this is quick and it doesn’t ask for any payment information.

If you already have a Plex server setup, the new collection of content will appear alongside your other media in its own sidebar category. In some ways, being an existing Plex user with a personal library makes the AVOD experience better right from the start. Plex can analyze your personal media to get a better sense of what to recommend from the ad-supported library. Other streaming services — both paid and free — need to watch your streaming activity over days, weeks, and even months to understand what you like.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The new service joins Plex’s free news streaming service that launched in 2017.

The free Plex streaming library competes with Roku’s own Roku Channel, PlutoTV, IMDB Free Dive, and Sony Crackle. Plex’s biggest advantage in this race is the sheer number of devices that already support the Plex app. It’s available on every single streaming device we can think of, most game consoles, a huge variety of smart TVs, and even some cable boxes and DVRs like the Tivo Bolt.

Although the future ability to add subscription streaming services alongside the free, ad-supported content isn’t something Plex is willing to confirm right now, it’s pretty clear this is the direction the company needs to take as it moves away from relying on its Plex Pass members for revenue.

You can already do this within the Roku Channel and Apple’s Apple TV app — another streaming environment with strong and growing hardware support. It’s also worth noting that Plex lets Tidal subscribers integrate that streaming service’s catalog into the Plex experience.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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Plex Discover screen.

Plex, the media server that lets you easily organize and access all of your personal movies, music, and photos, wants to become a one-stop-shop for streaming services, too. The company has added three new streaming-centric features: A streaming-based discovery tool, a universal search, and universal watchlists -- all of which are designed to decrease the amount of time you spend jumping back and forth between multiple apps as you attempt to answer the questions like, "Where can I watch [insert title of movie or TV show]?" or "What should I watch next?"
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The new features are free to use (no Plex Pass subscription required), but before you can take advantage of them, you'll need to be logged in to Plex with an account that has an associated email address. Guest accounts aren't supported at the moment. Plex will then ask that you identify which streaming services you subscribe to. Plex covers all the major players, like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and many of the smaller, niche services, too, so you should have no problem adding your favorites. There's no way to prevent Plex from promoting the availability of a certain movie or show from one of your non-subscribed services, but it will always prioritize the ones you have access to.
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