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Pluto.TV Launches ‘Live’ Web-Video Service with Backing from UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer, Terry Semel

Pluto.TV, a startup whose investors include UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer and Terry Semel’s Windsor Media, is launching the beta version of its online web-video guide that aggregates Internet content into 24-hour, TV-like channels.

At launch, Pluto.TV offers nearly 100 channels, organized in a TV grid in different genres like food, health and fitness, travel, sports, news, sketch comedy, childrens’ programming, music and more. Content is pulled from YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and other sites. In addition, startup has partnerships with web-video sites and TV networks to create their own branded channels, including Funny or Die, QVC, Refinery29, RocketJump and The Young Turks.

Why make web video look like TV? Pluto.TV CEO Nick Grouf believes compiling on-demand clips into live channels creates a “lean-back” experience that will drive up viewing. While VOD is growing across all platforms, more than 90% of time spent viewing video today is live TV, according to Nielsen data. The key to Pluto.TV is that each channel is programmed by a human — not a computer algorithm — with startup employing 15 curators to program the lineup.

“Online video services are like libraries — discovering content is very difficult,” Grouf said. “There hasn’t been a lot of development around audience engagement… Pluto.TV has done the heavy lifting for you, so you can sit back, watch and enjoy.”

UTA owns a stake in Pluto.TV, and Zimmer has also made a personal investment in the startup. UTA plans to give its clients access to curate their own channels on Pluto.TV, to create new ways to reach audiences, according to Zimmer.

“Sometimes old paradigms are useful, even with new paradigms of content distribution,” Zimmer said. “With the growth of Internet video, this is a new way for consumers to find content they’ll want to watch.”

By back-forming on-demand content into linear feeds, Pluto.TV claims it can boost engagement dramatically: The 100 users of the prelaunch version of site have spent about one hour per visit watching video, according to Grouf. In addition, with a “live” stream, users are more likely to engage in social features like live chat to talk with friends as they watch together.

“Content creators are looking for a way to build a persistent connection with audiences,” Grouf said.

Pluto.TV is free, and the company sells interstitial ads that play between clip segments on the channels. (It also preserves the preroll/postroll video ads that are placed in the original content.) Pluto.TV’s mobile app is available for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones and online at pluto.tv.

From the Pluto.TV home screen, viewers can see the programming schedule breakdown, see what’s coming up and read descriptions. Users can create a personal favorites list of channels and programs, and a “DVR” feature lets them rewind, pause or fast-forward the content. In the future, Pluto.TV plans to add the ability to create and share video playlists.

L.A.-based Pluto.TV was co-founded last year by entrepreneurs Grouf; Ilya Pozin, previously CEO of social greeting card startup Open Me; and Tom Ryan, formerly with EMI Music North America and Virgin Mobile. The company has 30 employees.

Grouf previously cofounded Spot Runner, an online media exchange acquired by Harris, and before that was CEO and cofounder of Firefly Network, a collaborative-filtering tech startup bought by Microsoft in 1998.

Startup’s investors and advisers include Terry Semel’s Windsor Media; UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer; Avram Miller, founder, Intel Capital; Mich Mathews, former CMO, Microsoft; Chris Silbermann, president and partner, ICM; Greg Steiner, COO, Beachmint and former COO, eHarmony; rapper Nas & Anthony Saleh’s Queensbridge Venture Partners; Great Oaks Venture Capital; Dennis Phelps, general partner, Institutional Venture Partners; Jonathan Nelson, CEO Omnicom Digital, Omnicom Group; Tom Whalley, former CEO, Warner Bros. Records and co-founder, Interscope Records; Jamie Tarses, former president, ABC Entertainment; Brent Weinstein, head of digital media, UTA; TenOneTen Ventures managing partner David Waxman; and Maker Studios SVP of marketing Jeremy Welt.

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