Pluto TV is one of many ways that consumers can watch live TV and on-demand content for free. This is made possible thanks to the use of ads to generate revenue in replace of a monthly subscription cost. Although ads are a good way to offset the financial cost, there is still a time cost households will need to be okay with.
Ad load is always going to be an issue for consumers. No matter how many ads are shown, it is likely some will want to see fewer ads. With Pluto, it is difficult to find any firm information on exactly what type of ad load users should expect. So, here’s a look at what consumers can expect based on our experience with the free streaming service. It is worth taking a moment to point out that Pluto TV is a service that provides access to both live channels and on-demand content. While both live TV and on-demand videos include ads, they are applied differently.
In terms of the live channels, this is pretty much in line with what you might expect from a traditional live TV service. Ads were in abundance and ad breaks tended to be much longer during live TV than with on-demand. On average, ad breaks lasted around three minutes each and tended to include between 5 and 7 individual ads.
Here’s an example of the frequency of ads as well as their duration after beginning to watch live TV at 10.24 am:
|Time of ad break||Duration||Number of ads|
|10:27||3 minutes||7 ads|
|10:39||3 minutes||7 ads|
|10:48||3 minutes||6 ads|
|11:02||3 minutes||6 ads|
|11:13||3 minutes||6 ads|
|11:24||3 minutes||7 ads|
|11:37||3 minutes||7 ads|
|11:48||3 minutes||7 ads|
|11:58||3 minutes||7 ads|
While the ads during this particular session were consistently three minutes long, that wasn’t always the case. However, ad breaks were almost always between two and three minutes and were never less than two minutes when watching any of the live channels. On a rare occasion, they were longer than three minutes, but never lasted beyond four minutes.
Pluto’s on-demand ads
It is impossible to avoid ads when watching live content through any streaming service, but watching live is only half of the Pluto experience. When it comes to on-demand content, that’s when a service either really excels or fails in the ads department. In terms of Pluto, the average on-demand ad break was shorter than with live TV, but still frequent enough.
During a 44-minute episode, the first ad break occurred four minutes in and lasted approximately two minutes with six ads shown. The second ad break came after 10 minutes and lasted another two full minutes with five ads shown. By this point, there had been four minutes of ads to watch 10 minutes of content. The third ad break took place 16 minutes into the episode and lasted two minutes with 5 ads shown. The fourth ad break occurred after 21 minutes, lasted two minutes and consisted of 5 ads. The next ad break was after 27 minutes, lasted another two minutes with 5 ads shown. This was then followed by another ad break after 32 minutes which lasted two minutes with 5 ads shown. The final ad break took place after 37 minutes, lasted two minutes with 5 ads shown.
In this example, the ad load was pretty excessive and resulted in a total of 16 minutes for a 44-minute episode. When it came to a shorter 22-minute episode, it was a slightly better story. The first ad break was shown after 6 minutes, lasted 90 seconds and included 5 ads. The second took place after 10 minutes and lasted 1 minute with 4 ads shown. The third and final ad break was shown after 20 Minutes, lasted 1 minute, and included 3 ads.
As demonstrated with these two examples, miles will vary with ad loads. While the frequency and length discussed here can be useful to gauge what to expect, it shouldn’t be viewed as guaranteed. What is guaranteed, however, is that consumers will have to sit through a fair amount of ads if they want to watch content for free on Pluto.
Including the two examples above, here’s how many ads were shown and how long the ad breaks lasted for five on-demand videos that varied in length and time of day watched:
|Length||Length w/ads||1st ad break||2nd break||3rd break||4th break||5th break||6th break||7th break||8th break||9th break||10th break||11th break||12th break|
|22 mins (episode)||25 mins 30 secs||90 seconds||1 min||1 min|
|43 mins (episode)||50 mins 45 secs||2 mins||105 seconds||2 mins||2 mins|
|44 mins (episode)||58 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins|
|93 mins (movie)||110 mins||90 seconds||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||90 seconds||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins|
|124 mins (movie)||147 mins 30 secs||90 seconds||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins||2 mins|
As the table shows, ads shown during on-demand videos never lasted longer than 2 minutes, although the vast majority of them were exactly 2 minutes. During really short episodes (less than 25 minutes), the ads were always shorter than 2 minutes. While it is difficult to say exactly how many ads a user will see when watching on-demand Pluto, we found between 13 and 16 minutes per hour to be a good expectation.
Pluto TV’s ad experience could be better
In terms of the more general ad experience on Pluto TV, it could be better. For starters, Pluto TV doesn’t provide any indication of the length of ad breaks. This is a common feature on other FAST services and the ability to know in advance how long the break will be is highly beneficial to consumers. Secondly, Pluto TV doesn’t make clear how many ad breaks are due to be shown during an episode or movie. This is information that is typically provided by many competing services with visible indicators on the video’s timeline. With Pluto, however, there are no indicators so it is never entirely clear when the next ad break will take place.
Another way the ad experience could be improved is with variety. Pluto TV tends to repeat the same commercials during the same episode and this can quickly become annoying. During the first example above, pretty much every ad break started with the same commercial. The rest of the ad breaks then tended to be filled with commercials taken from a small pool, resulting in them also having to be viewed multiple times during the same episode.
To be fair, the issue of repetition is not just a problem with Pluto TV. Currently, most free streaming services tend to suffer with the same repetitive ad issue. Still, it is something that affects Pluto TV and the user experience, and something that consumers will likely grow quickly tired of.
Pluto ads summary
A lot of this article has looked at the ad experience as negative — how long, how frequent, repetition, and so on. However, that’s not the thing to takeaway here. Pluto is a free service, and if it didn’t show ads, then consumers would have to pay yet another monthly subscription to access the wide selection of episodes, movies and live channels. In this sense, there is nothing wrong with Pluto showing ads. By doing so, more people can watch for free, and that’s a good thing.
However, it was felt that Pluto’s approach to ads is pretty aggressive. Even though Tubi is a similar service that also completely relies on ads, it does seem to offer a better ad-viewing experience in general. Again, this is not to suggest consumers shouldn’t use Pluto, as they should — it’s free. It’s just those new to Pluto may want to prepare to watch frequent ads, very often, and the very same frequent ads.