Dec 02, 2019

By Nicole Bitette
The experts behind the platform’s niche channels.

On Pluto TV, you can take a journey through the European countryside via train without ever leaving your couch. You can discover a little-known indie movie from one of its many film channels. Or, you can binge Mystery Science Theater 3000 through all hours of the day.

If you’re lucky, like Nikki Grenoble, your Mystery Science Theater 3000 obsession could even land you a job programming some of the free streaming TV platform’s many channels. Grenoble schedules some of the platform’s niche channels.

Pluto TV, which was acquired by Viacom in January, offers more than 200 live channels and thousands of on-demand movies on an ad-supported platform. Some of the channels are genre-specific, with a focus on reality TV, news, or sports. Other channels are more program-specific, such as the ones dedicated to Minecraft and Doctor Who. Since Pluto TV became a Viacom company, channels featuring classic library content—like the Comedy Central Stand-Up, Cribs, and AwesomenessTV channels—populate the platform. And, ahead of the merger between Viacom and CBS, it recently added three CBS Interactive channels: ET Live, CBSN New York, and CBSN Los Angeles, adding to CBSN and CNET, which were already on the platform. It launched several holiday-themed channels recently, one of which is just video of a fireplace, as well as a Tween channel called Pluto TV Tween.

“Pluto TV literally has something for everyone. If you love wrestling, we have a fight channel. If you love cats and just want to watch cats doing cat things, we have a cat channel. And if you want to watch the news, we have a ton of providers that should satisfy liberals and conservatives alike,” says Brian Rodriguez, Pluto TV’s a.m. news editor.

To program these niche channels, Pluto TV hires experts. For example, it hired former mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Andrew “The Squid” Montanez to figure out what content would live best on the platform’s MMA channel, and put a veteran reporter at the helm of its news channel. Viacom spoke with some of its in-house content curators to get an idea of how they work their curatorial magic.

Jackie Maroney, Channel Editor

Jackie Maroney, Pluto

Channels she programs: WHAT, Pluto TV Romance, Nosey, MTV The Hills, Pluto TV Travel, Food TV, FrontDoor, Pluto TV Her, Pluto TV Her Dramas, Pluto TV Weddings, People TV, BET Her, Pluto TV Tween. Just about anything that touches female interest!

What led her to the gig: I majored in film and television at Boston University, but I have always had a passion for entertainment and pop culture. As a child actor, I found myself at an early age being interested in more than just the shows that were expected of kids my age, which gave me an extensive knowledge of television and film libraries. I use this knowledge when reviewing content catalogues and selecting content. I’m also a pop culture and reality TV junkie. In my spare time, I produce and host a podcast about The Bachelor, “Bachelor Blab” (shameless plug).

How she determines channel content: We use data reports and A/B testing to determine our top performing content and viewer trends. It’s very interesting because different genres of content have different viewing patterns. For example, our audience prefers small, 3 to 4 hour marathons of reality TV shows with episodes in sequential order. But when it comes to movies, appointment viewing works better.

"As a child actor, I found myself at an early age being interested in more than just the shows that were expected of kids my age, which gave me an extensive knowledge of television and film libraries."

Jackie Maroney

Channel Editor

Andrew “The Squid” Montanez, Programming Manager

Andrew "The Squid" Montanez, Pluto

Channels he programs: I primarily oversee the ones that contain fight content as well as a lot of the more male-centric content. Here’s my current channel load: Fight, Flicks of Fury, Spike Pluto TV, Spike Outdoors, Impact Wrestling, Totally Turtles, Glory Kickboxing, Combate Americas, THC, and Tech.

What led him to the gig: I am an expert on the world of fighting because I have had over 40 MMA fights, was an owner of a successful fight promotion that was acquired, and served as a host and commentator for some major fight promotions, including Glory Kickboxing and the Professional Fighters League. I also have a YouTube channel called MMA Surge that has over 250K subscribers. I consider myself a bit of a fight library; you can find me on the weekends flying to UFC, Bellator, and boxing fights all over the country.

"I'm an expert on the world of fighting because I've been in over 40 MMA fights."

Andrew "The Squid" Montanez

Programming Manager

In 2010, I ended my professional fighting career and moved to Los Angeles to try my luck in Hollywood to see if someone would let me direct an action movie with no experience. I got lucky and quickly booked television work doing stunts on shows like CSI:NY, Touch, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I had the opportunity to be on some action movie sets and be part of the team that plans the stunts and does the fight choreography. That's where I sharpened my eye for picking action and Kung-Fu movies. That led to being hired to direct and produce all sorts of digital content, short films, commercials, and music videos.

How he determines channel content: We look for the best stuff. I am a super fan of fighting, boxing, Kung-Fu movies, action movies, and stuff in that wheelhouse. So, if that content doesn't grab me as a regular fan, I will usually pass on it. I tend to lean into how the content makes me feel and rely on my expert intuition.

There are some other determining factors like popularity, the cast, and overall production value.  But, if I don't think people are going to like it, I don't think it needs to take up any of Pluto TV's real estate.

Nikki Grenoble, Channel Editor

Nikki Grenoble, Pluto

What led her to the gig: As a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, I knew about Pluto TV from the 24/7 channel we offer.

I thought the platform was serving a unique need, and that it was great that real people were responsible for specific genres. They were hiring, and now I program our Mystery Science Theater channel.

Aside from being a big fan and consumer of the content I work with, I’d previously majored in anthropology while simultaneously interning at production companies. This role splits the difference.

A lot of what I do at Pluto TV is looking at trends and interpreting them to see what our audience is watching, plus research—and I love a research rabbit hole. There’s also an important creative component.

"It’s obvious [Pluto TV] provides a valuable service for cord-cutters and people who like to drop-in and have the 'cable' experience."

Nikki Grenoble

Channel Editor

You need to know the content and know what’s worth highlighting. With a linear experience, you curate content in a way that keeps people on the channel.

What’s unique about Pluto TV: In a world of mostly-VOD, linear programming seemed like it was on its way out, but with our success and trends on other platforms, it’s obvious we provide a valuable service for cord-cutters and people who like to drop in and have the “cable” experience.

I’ve overhead a stranger talk about dropping in on one of my channels and being excited to find a movie I’d programmed that night. I think it shows our content expertise is part of what sets us apart from other platforms, that you can drop in on a channel of interest and see something hand-picked for you.

Brian Rodriguez, A.M. News Editor

Brian Rodriguez, Pluto

Channels he programs: I program Pluto TV News, CNN, Cheddar News, TYT Network, Pluto TV Election, Today’s Top Story, The First and Fox Sports.

What led him to the gig: I worked as a local TV reporter and anchor for about six years. I believe my experience reporting in the field and producing news gives me a unique perspective when it comes to programming news shows on our platform, especially the owned and operated channels like Pluto TV News.

The day-to-day: I start bright and early at 4:30 a.m. PST. The first thing I do is make sure to update all our news programs, starting with Pluto TV News, to bring the latest news to our viewers as early as possible. I also check my email to see if any of our live streaming partners like CBSN are carrying any newsworthy events like an impeachment inquiry testimony or wildfire updates. If they are, I coordinate with them on language to use for a push notification to send to our users. I also push to breaking news coverage from our live partners as well, which makes me feel like I’m in a newsroom again.

How he determines channel content: When I program Pluto TV News, I treat it like building a newscast for a local TV news broadcast, leading the top of the show with the top story of the day and filling the rest with complementary, timely, and newsworthy stories.

Drew Platt, Channel Editor

Drew Platt, Pluto

Channels he programs: I program quite a few channels, but the top channels I program are 80’s Rewind, Pluto TV Kids, Pluto TV Terror, Pluto TV Surf, and AwesomenessTV.

How he determines channel content: I look for top content first (bigger films/shows, A-list celebrities, etc … ), but I also look for those hidden gems most people haven't seen. Hidden gems lend themselves to good lead-ins.

I like selecting content that can easily set up an awesome marathon or great double feature, something that the public will like and movie geeks will love. For example, I put in a content request for the film The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), which is a film I love and one you couldn’t even get before 2009 when Criterion released it on Blu-Ray. We acquired the streaming rights to it and it was the first time it played on free-streaming TV. That was a big personal win.

"As a kid growing up in a small town in the South, I had to go out and find the cool stuff I wanted to watch, praying it would come on a local channel...hopefully, I can show people out there some cool stuff that they wouldn’t have discovered unless they watch Pluto TV."

Drew Platt

Channel Editor

A channel programming highlight: I really enjoyed creating our Pluto TV Terror channel. It’s one of our newer channels and I grew up on old-school horror movies like the ones we offer on Terror. It was a fun experiment seeing what people would respond to. We already have Pluto TV Horror which fans love, so we wanted Terror to feel a little different, like an old grindhouse movie theater selection. I'm trying out an old Christopher Lee-hosted program called 100 Years of Horror as a lead-in to the primetime movies and people are loving it.

What’s unique about Pluto TV: As a kid growing up in a small town in the South, I had to go out and find the cool stuff I wanted to watch, praying it would come on a local channel. I know with the internet it’s easier than ever to find whatever you want, but hopefully, I can show people out there some cool stuff that they wouldn’t have discovered unless they watch Pluto TV.

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