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Pluto.TV Wants to Turn Web Videos Into Web TV

What if YouTube looked like TV? Advertisers and programmers would like it. Would you?

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

You, the average American, watch a lot of Web video. But you watch way, way more TV.

Would you watch more Web video if it looked like TV?

That’s the premise behind Pluto.TV, a new service that pulls together lots of clips from YouTube and other Web video sites, and arranges them in a TV-like setting. You can use it, for free, via your Web browser, as well as Android and iOS apps.

I don’t think Pluto.TV will work, for the same reason that almost every Web video aggregation/discovery doesn’t work — it doesn’t fix a problem that most people have.

Lots of video producers and advertisers would like to get more people to watch more videos — specifically, the videos they own or are advertising on. But most people have more than enough stuff to watch already — they don’t need to “discover” anything else.

But I have seen a lot of these, and at the very least, Pluto’s presentation is interesting, and interesting to think about: While most video services offer new ways of finding what you might want to watch, Pluto uses a deliberately old-timey interface — the same TV show grid we’ve been using for decades.

Instead of asking you to search for shows, or clips, that you might want to see, Pluto assembles lots of clips into TV “shows,” lays them out in a linear sequence, and won’t let you see them until it’s ready.

That is, if you want to watch “Epic Wipeouts” on Pluto’s “Xtreme Sports” channel, you are going to have to wait until noon eastern today. And if you’re interested in a specific clip from that show, Pluto can’t help you — you can tape the entire show via a virtual DVR, but you can’t call up specific segments on demand.

So that can be a frustrating experience for people who’ve been used to the anything-you-want, anytime-you-want-it experience you can get on YouTube — or just about anywhere else on the Web, for that matter (Pluto says it will eventually offer on-demand and search capabilities as well). On the other hand, when Pluto stitches this stuff together and presents it as a “show,” it pulls off a pretty cool trick — you may find yourself watching a lot more than you intended to, simply because it keeps serving stuff up to you, just like your TV does.

Which, again, is the real point of Pluto.TV and most other video aggregation/discovery services. And it’s why Pluto has already signed up lots of Web video makers, like Maker Studios and the Young Turks, who already have lots of eyeballs on YouTube but are looking for services that do a better job of promoting and organizing their stuff than Google’s website does. You might even argue that Pluto is most valuable as a reference design for YouTube, if it ever wanted to redesign itself to please its video makers and advertisers.

I don’t think that’s the goal of Pluto’s backers, though. That group includes a long list of Hollywood and Web video veterans, along with Terry Semel’s Windsor Media, which is also an investor in Revere Digital, which owns Re/code.

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