Since being founded in 2009, the Plex media server and service has grown from strength to strength and with 25 million users worldwide, is now a force to be reckoned with.
Early adopters know Plex as a powerful media server capable of transforming local movie, TV show, and other libraries into a beautiful Netflix-style entertainment experience. Playable on a wide range of devices including PCs, smart TVs and even smartphones, Plex has a strong cult following but in recent years has begun to spread its wings.
While the company would prefer not to acknowledge it, Plex is the playback weapon of choice for millions of pirates. So-called “Plex for Share” services aside, direct piracy isn’t strictly possible within the system but when it is fed with movies and TV shows previously obtained from pirate sites, consumption of such media is transformed. The problem then, is how to tempt these users away from the ‘dark’ side.
Plex Spreads its Wings
In 2019, it was revealed that Plex had struck licensing deals with Warner Bros to supply free, ad-supported movies and TV shows to Plex users. Since then, Plex has added free live TV channels and secured more than 240 additional content deals with the likes of Lionsgate, MGM, Sony, AMC and more. This means that when ‘pirate’ users fire up Plex, they are not only presented with their own unlicensed content libraries but also official content too.
This blurring of ‘markets’ is an intriguing proposition that hasn’t been strongly tested before. Legal movie and TV show content from major providers isn’t seen on pirate streaming sites, for example, meaning that users can’t be easily tempted away during their visits. However, by putting licensed content inside Plex, no external navigation is needed, making the switch to revenue-generating content a breeze.
However, this innovation was only the beginning and according to an announcement Wednesday, Plex has an even bigger plan on the horizon, one that could transform the market.
$50m in Funding Secured: One-Stop Shop For Movies and TV
Yesterday, Plex revealed it had completed a growth equity round of $50 million from existing investor Intercap. The financing includes approximately $15 million in new capital for Plex, which the company intends to invest in its mission to become a one-stop-shop for movies and TV. It aims to do this by addressing one of the most frustrating aspects of today’s legal streaming market – fragmentation.
“As the industry grows so does the media chaos, creating a more fractured consumer experience with a dizzying array of services and subscriptions – all served up through a multitude of platforms and apps that the consumer has to keep track of,” Plex explains.
“This experience is painful for consumers who just want to find and easily navigate to movies and TV shows that they like.”
What Plex has in mind is to present users with a “single pane of glass”, a window to access their entire content libraries from within Plex, enabling them to find what they want quickly and easily.
“Everybody knows it’s a pain to sift through all the streaming services to find what you want to watch, and our goal at Plex is to manage your media life for you,” says Keith Valory, CEO at Plex.
“Our job is to understand where everything is, whether it’s from our free library of movies and shows, a subscription service, live on TV, or something you can purchase, and for Plex to be the trusted go-to service to help you find what you want, when you want it.”
One Interface, Endless Options
At the moment, Plex users are presented with their local content libraries and Plex’s movies, TV shows and live TV streams. The plan as described thus far suggests that Plex also hopes to partner with platforms such as Netflix, Prime, and maybe even Disney, so that all content libraries are searchable from one place – a legal content metasearch engine of sorts.
Whether these giants will have any interest in this proposal remains a question but it’s not difficult to see how such a system could be attractive to regular users while also becoming a valuable tool to leverage additional revenue from pirates. These days, only a minority of pirates are ‘hard core’, i.e they only consume content from pirate sources. The majority also consume legitimate content too and it’s not hard to find plenty who also have Netflix and Disney subscriptions, for example.
However, instead of having pirates sit completely isolated in their own ecosystems, with no immediate opportunity to convert them (or more fully convert them) into paying customers, the Plex proposal appears to welcome them to the fold, making all content searchable from one location and potentially negating the need to switch in and out of numerous apps.
That being said, there are problems to overcome.
Subscription and Privacy Concerns Remain
As things stand, even if users can easily search and discover content across multiple legal platforms in one interface, they’ll still be required to subscribe to those platforms to access the content.
For Plex, this could provide a source of affiliate revenue when users choose to sign up but there are limits to how much consumers are prepared to spend. A nice option would be to offer a package of subscriptions at a significantly reduced rate (a Plex Pass Plus option, if you like) but in the current environment, there doesn’t appear to be much of an appetite among providers to consider that.
Also, there are privacy concerns, particularly if Plex wants to assure its pirate and partially-pirate consumers to step onboard and begin the journey.
“Plex will help users discover new things to enjoy based on everything they already watch, with smart recommendations such as ‘you watched this movie, so you might enjoy this podcast, or this musical artist.’ It’s all about creating a custom multi-media entertainment experience that’s easy and enjoyable for each individual’s unique tastes,” the company explains.
While subscribers to Netflix and Disney are already used to these types of recommendations, it will remain to be seen how this is welcomed by pirate users. At this stage, it’s unknown whether Plex intends to start harvesting and/or sharing pirates’ viewing habits with their commercial partners. Also, things could get a little bit awkward if messages appear noting that “Since you watched yet-to-be-released-on-streaming-platforms ‘movie X’, then you might like to watch Y.”
That problem is probably a long way off but nevertheless, Plex’s momentum towards official content partnerships is absolutely clear. Becoming a focal point for lawful content consumption could also mean it faces pressure to do something about piracy too, but only time will tell how that plays out. There are clear opportunities ahead though, including millions of chances to convert pirates while cleaning up the legal streaming market into something cohesive.