Plex Is Talking to Studios to Bulk Up Its Content Offering

The company considered building its own streaming device 5 years ago.

Media center app maker Plex is in active conversations with studios and other content producers about distributing their programming to its users, CEO Keith Valory told Variety during a conversation at CES in Las Vegas this week. The company is exploring a variety of monetization models, which include advertising and micro-subscriptions, he said.

Plex used to be primarily known as a solution for consumers with large personal media collections on their hard drives. Over the past few years, the company has added a variety of additional content sources, including a DVR to record over-the-air broadcast TV, podcasts, personalized news and web shows.

Most recently, Plex launched a partnership with Tidal to integrate the music streamer’s catalog into its own apps, where paying Tidal subscribers can now mix cloud-based music streaming with their personal MP3 collections. “The early signs are all really good,” Valory said about the Tidal partnership.

However, music was just a first test case for integrating subscriptions into Plex, he said. “There will be more of those.” At the same time, Plex is also exploring ad-supported distribution models for premium content.

Valory didn’t want to reveal any specific upcoming integrations yet, but said that the company was effectively focused on bulking up its catalog with movies, TV shows and live content. “Our business is video-driven,” he said.

By offering video subscriptions through its own app, Plex would effectively be competing with the likes on Amazon and Roku, which both resell subscription video services on their platforms. Compared to those, the company may still be relatively unknown in Hollywood — but it’s not necessarily a small contender. Plex doesn’t release any monthly usage stats, but Valory said that the company had 20 million sign-ups and a loyal user base. “We’ve got millions of people using our product every month.”

Interestingly, Plex chief product officer Scott Olechowski credited Netflix with the fact that Plex has become so ubiquitous on a wide variety of streaming devices. That’s because a little over 5 years ago, the Plex team seriously considered building its own TV streaming hardware. The company was even experimenting with Arduinos to figure out what a Plex box could look like.

But at around the same time, Netflix tightened its requirements for hardware manufacturers, and stopped integrating its app into devices that wouldn’t ship to a significant number of customers out of the gate — numbers that were out of reach for a startup like Plex. “That decided it for us,” recalled Olechowski.