NOV. 29, 2021
By Nicole Bitette
(This article was updated on May 16, 2022 to reflect Olivier Jollet's new title).
Pluto TV is on a mission to entertain the entire planet, tackling one region at a time: the latest is the Nordics—including Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
Olivier Jollet is the executive in charge of Pluto TV, driving Paramount's streaming and mobile businesses internationally as EVP, International GM of Pluto TV (previously SVP, General Manager for Pluto TV, and head of mobile). He's been leading the European strategy and business development for the service since 2016 when Pluto TV acquired Quazer, an OTT TV-like platform focused on non-fiction programming that Jollet co-founded. During Jollet's time at Pluto TV, its user base across the world, including in the USA, has exploded from 5 to 54 million monthly active users.
"I believed quite early that there was huge potential for a linear business in the streaming world," says Jollet. "Pluto TV took inspiration from TV and SVOD and created a new product. That's what's so innovative."
Jollet spoke to the Paramount Newsroom about Pluto TV's international expansion and the fantasy comic he's obsessed with.
Nicole Bitette: Pluto TV is the leading free, ad-supported television service. To what do you attribute its success?
Olivier Jollet: Pluto TV was founded by Tom Ryan and Ilya Pozin in 2014 to solve the paradox of choice ultimately. The vision was built on three contrarian principles: free in the age of on-demand, linear in the age of subscription, and ad-supported at a time when everyone was predicting the end of the ad-supported model.
The free element has been critical to our expansion. And, the linear approach is really the key differentiator that brought Pluto TV to scale. At the same time, we always tried to have different editorial lines, and that's why users love us.
NB: How did you apply the success of Pluto TV in the U.S. to international markets?
O.J.: When ViacomCBS acquired Pluto TV in 2019, we were already live in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Still, it was just the beginning of this incredible adventure, and many people were wondering 'will it work?"
I think we have the answer now, and it works beyond our expectations. Europe has many high-quality free-to-air channels compared to the USA market, and the cost-cutting movement is also limited in those countries. But Pluto TV has been able to impose its FAST concept across the old Continent, becoming the first FAST service across Europe in less than three years with more than 500 curated channels, a wide distribution, and fantastic content partners such as BBC, A&E, or Mediawan. We have recently accelerated our expansion during the last two years, launching the service in 2020 in LATAM, followed by Spain, France, Brazil, Italy, and Nordics in 2022.
Our secret ingredient? Thematic curated channels created by fans for fans spanning all genres.
NB: What does the recent expansion to Italy mean for the service?
O.J.: Italy is one of the most important markets in Europe for ad sales. The TV business is still huge there; they have more than 120 free-to-air channels, but at the same time, they are transitioning into the new streaming world. In Italy, there are three key elements: free, linear, and ad sales, so Pluto TV couldn't find a better place to be.
We launched Pluto TV in Italy with 40 channels combining great local content and our Paramount library, and, on top of that, we secured a partnership with Sky media that included Pluto TV in their portfolio of brands that they sell for us. In addition, Sky is also our distribution partner for some of our key brands, such as MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, and will be our leading partner for Paramount+ that we will launch in 2022. The good thing is we'll be able to really levy the ecosystem we are building across free, streaming, and pay.
In the Nordics, we will be taking a different approach. We announced on Nov. 29, a groundbreaking partnership with NENT, the leading entertainment group in the Nordics. We're integrating their existing AVOD platform into Pluto TV, building a world-class FAST AVOD service in the Nordics. Combining the power of NENT from a content, ad sales, and marketing point of view with the power of Pluto TV as a world-leading FAST service successfully live in more than 25 markets across International will be a great launch and a different way of tackling a market. This is definitively a model that we want to export outside Nordics.
"That's the beauty of Pluto TV. It's created for local audiences, and in each market, there's a little bit of surprise."
NB: How are you programming Pluto TV to serve the needs of various local markets?
O.J.: Our channels are curated differently for every single market based on the watching habits of the audience. We are always trying to match the needs of the local markets with a mix of local and international content. We have already launched more than 700 channels outside of the U.S. The uniqueness of Pluto TV really comes from our curated thematic channels, programmed by our fantastic team of channel editors. Those are the soul of Pluto TV. We love to be different and surprise our users with a unique editorial line, and they are doing it so well. We are proud to be human-curated in a world where everything is starting to be algorithm-driven. The channels are created for fans by fans. In each country, we are building a team of editors with different expertise; some used to work on the linear networks, some were journalists, some are series/movies junkies!
NB: What are some of the most popular channels in international markets?
O.J.: Difficult to answer as our international markets are so different. Nevertheless, some of the channels work around the world, such as Pluto TV Crime or Drama but also our SpongeBob SquarePants or South Park channels. Our users also love all our binge-watching channels around nostalgic series such as Beverly Hills, Forensic Files, Baywatch, Who's The Boss?, or, Walker, Texas Ranger. What is important is that while channels such Pluto TV Movies or Pluto TV Sci-fi exist around the world, the content is extremely different. Sometimes we don't even understand why a channel is over-performing, but that's the beauty of Pluto TV. It's created for local audiences, and in each market, there's a little bit of surprise.
NB: How do you describe what you do to someone you meet at a party? A quick one-liner.
O.J.: Have you ever heard of Pluto TV? No? Then you will!
NB: What's the best advice you've received?
O.J.: You learn a lot by failing. One of my first mentors told me this when I was still young, and it gave me a lot of inspiration in some of the ventures that I've started, which were not successful. That's something that helps you to move further and stop thinking about failure as an ending point, but vice-versa as a new starting point.
NB: Go-to Pluto TV channel in Germany?
O.J.: The MTV Unplugged channel because I used to work in the music industry and worked with some of the Unplugged artists. Our Pluto TV Food channel as well. I'm French, and food is a very important topic for French people.
NB: What are you currently obsessed with?
O.J.: I'm reading this fantastic comic CATHARGO written by the famous French author Chirstopher Bec. It's very inspiring to read a fantasy comic, and it's a good one. It's fantasy, science-fiction, but at the same time, they bring environmental causes and issues with some typically French provocations. It's super addictive. There are 11 books, and I'm in the middle of that right now; I can't stop reading.