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What is Pluto TV: channels, where to get it, and more

With so many streaming services to choose from, keeping track of which TV shows, movies, and channels are available where you can find them can be overwhelming, if not impossible. Even if popular services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video pique your interest, they can also leave a massive dent in your wallet, especially if you plan to subscribe to more than one, as most people do when they decide to cut the cable cord

Pluto TV, on the other hand, isn’t Netflix or Hulu — it’s free.

Looking for a movie?

Pluto TV is a freemium service that combines live TV with on-demand content that might interest many subscribers. Being the source of all the content for Vizio’s WatchFree Plus service, it also offers an enticing collection of more than 250 channels and thousands of free movies and shows for the low, low price of absolutely nothing (aside from a few ads). Best of all, the service has only gotten better since it started rubbing elbows with major network broadcasters. Let’s dive deeper to find out what is Pluto TV.

What is Pluto TV?

App icons on Chromecast with Google TV.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Founded in 2013, Pluto TV was purchased by ViacomCBS Streaming in 2019, but in February 2022, ViacomCBS Streaming officially changed its name to Paramount Streaming under its umbrella company Paramount Global. But never mind all that. Pluto TV is a live-TV streaming service, not entirely unlike Sling TV and competitors such as DirecTV Stream and Hulu + Live TV. Unlike those services, which offer streaming access to channels you’d find on cable TV, Pluto TV offers free content mainly curated from what’s already available online. Pluto TV launched in 2013 and picked up steam fairly quickly. The service has more than 68 million active users as of July 2022, making it the largest free TV streaming service in the U.S. That number can only grow as Pluto launched in Latin America in 2021; Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in May 2022; and has plans to launch in Canada by the fall of 2022.

With Pluto TV, you’ll find content from channels you recognize, as well as some you’ve likely never heard of. Even those who already subscribe to a live TV streaming service may find it useful thanks to its curated layout, though this will depend on your personal preferences.

What Pluto TV’s navigation like?

Pluto TV has a user interface that streamlines the entire process of content discovery and playback. The chief theme in navigation is linearity. The service makes it possible to jump into any of its main live TV categories — sports, movies, news, entertainment, etc. — with just one or two clicks. This philosophy extends to the video-on-demand UI, which offers more playful categories like “rom-coms” while retaining the traditional TV guide’s spirit. Pluto TV is constantly adding new channels, and it also frequently adds new categories, most recently announcing five new categories: Game Shows, Daytime TV, Home, Food, and Lifestyle and Culture, bringing the total number of categories to 18.

A picture of Pluto TV's new user interface as of March 2020.

You’ll now be able to specify your favorite channels, saving you from having to weed through its 1,000-plus channel list. You can also save individual shows, clips, and movies from more than 150,000 hours of unique programming to a watch list. Once you finally decide what you’re watching, you can also access a preview panel that shows more information, such as the cast list, directors, and trailers.

Which channels are available?

Pluto TV channel guide on a TV screen.

You’d expect to chew through the content library of a free service quickly. Still, there’s a lot to explore on Pluto TV, especially with more than 400 global content partners on board providing entertainment across 1,000-plus channels. Looking through the Pluto TV guide, channels are separated into groups by similarity. You’ll find some relatively standard categories like news, sports, movies, entertainment, and comedy.

News

For the most part, you’re not going to find standard TV channels, though some are represented via their web counterparts, especially news outlets. Those include familiar names like Bloomberg, Cheddar, CNBC, MSNBC, CBSN, and many others. As of 2019, this also includes CNN, though not the full, live CNN you get on cable. Instead, the CNN channel features a curated playlist of short-form digital content from CNN’s anchors and reporters. Featured clips are oriented toward lifestyle and culture, climate change, the environment, and original CNN investigations and interviews. A similar channel for NBC called NBC News Now is also available. Other additions to Pluto TV include CMT, Kevin Hart’s Laugh out Loud, and Red Bull TV, plus a handful of new themed channels in Celebrity, Reality, and Lives, the perfect cocktail for pop culture and reality TV enthusiasts.

Sports

Sports coverage is less conventional — you’re not going to find the likes of ESPN here. Instead, you’ll find choices like Fight, World Poker Tour, Impact Wrestling, a dedicated Sports News Network, Glory Kickboxing, and the Big Sky Network. DAZN recently signed a deal to provide an original weekly series for Pluto TV, and there’s potential for that partnership to expand down the line. Pluto has recently added an official PGA Tour channel with 24/7 coverage of one of golf’s biggest tournaments.

Entertainment

There are reruns of reality and documentary shows alongside episodes of Dennis the Menace, Thunderbirds, and other older TV shows available in the Entertainment section. Among those various channels, you’ll also find Wipeout, a network that only shows reruns of popular game show and various iterations from different countries, as well as Nosey, which shows reruns of The Jerry Springer Show and The Maury Show, among others. Meanwhile, the Curiosity section features Science TV, Docu TV, Xive TV, and even a NASA livestream. Pluto TV also has a Sitcoms channel, which offers a selection of older comedies like 3rd Rock from the Sun and The Lucy Show, and a Spanish-language channel called Pluto TV Cine.

Comedy, travel, and more

That type of hyper-focused network is par for the course with Pluto TV, which also features Anime All Day and Stand Up, a channel dedicated to stand-up comedy. Similar channels include Slow TV, which shows relaxing imagery, Pluto TV Travel, and Cats 24/7, which is pretty self-explanatory. Check back during notable seasons like Christmas, and you’re likely to see new temporary channels or a festive explosion of holiday-themed content to enjoy, which is all the more reason to keep checking back for what’s new.

Internet radio

Several internet radio stations are also available via Dash Radio, which is available as a standalone service. Modern genres like hip-hop, electronic music, and pop are the most prevalent, though stations are also available that offer classic rock, soul, and jazz.

International flavor

Pluto has also aspired to ramp up its international presence. It is now available in more than 30 countries and territories. In the first year of its U.K. operations, the service is adding two British-specific channels to its lineup, including a permanent 24/7 Made in Britain lineup that airs British-centric films and shows. The other is Brit-pocalypse, a temporary themed channel that highlights apocalypse and destruction films in British settings. In the Nordics, they partnered with local broadcaster Nordic Entertainment Group. This allowed for 70 unique, locally-focused channels in these locations. Pluto TV has plans to launch in Australia and Africa, too.

What about on-demand content?

Pluto TV’s on-demand offering has some TV shows, most notably from TLC and Discovery Channel, but the vast majority of what you’re going to find are movies.

The available content changes frequently, with the service promising new movies every week. The rotating selection makes it hard to predict what’s available, and it’s not on par with services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video by any stretch. Overall, Pluto TV doesn’t match Netflix’s vast expanse of cinematographic excellence. Still, there are enough notable titles to catch your attention, and you may find a hidden gem among the fringe offerings.

On-demand content may not be available on every platform, or at least not all of it may not be available. In our testing, both shows and movies were available on-demand via most of the platforms we tested, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS, Roku, and Playstation 4 and 5.

What devices can I use to watch?

The Roku Ultra set-top streaming box.

Chances are that you own at least one streaming device capable of streaming Pluto TV. The service can be streamed via a web browser and offers desktop apps for both Windows and MacOS. However, they can only be used in the U.S. Mobile apps are also available for iOS and Android devices, with separate U.S. and international versions, which offer different channels due to streaming rights issues.

If you’d rather watch on your TV, several devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV devices, and the PlayStation 5 offer Pluto TV apps. Smart TVs from Samsung, Hisense, Roku, and Vizio are also supported, with the company’s website saying that more are on the way. Not all Pluto TV channels are available on all platforms, however.

Will Pluto TV stick around?

At least at the time of this writing, it doesn’t seem like Pluto TV will be going anywhere. Unlike previous projects that aimed to provide shows you would otherwise need an antenna for, Pluto TV isn’t stepping on any toes that could irk either government agencies or pay TV companies.

Free though it may be, Pluto TV sells advertising on every channel, judging from our experience. It seems like advertisers are buying. With Paramount’s team significantly boosting the platform’s marketing efforts, we expect even greater interest among advertisers as Paramount uses Pluto TV to help bolster its other properties, such as Paramount+.

The easiest way to decide whether Pluto TV is right for you is to download one of the apps on your platform of choice or head to the company’s website and watch there. It won’t cost anything but your time, and you’ll most likely find something you enjoy, given the breadth of programming. Just don’t expect to find any of the latest content found on other networks. 

Our list of the best streaming devices is a great starting point if you need something to stream Pluto TV on. If you’re more interested in a traditional TV experience than watching your favorite shows over the internet, check out our comparison of the best live TV services.

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