Robert Stack

The show "Unsolved Mysteries" is able to be streamed on the free service Pluto TV.

This week, HBO (and its parent corporation, WarnerMedia), made a big move by announcing a monster streaming platform, HBO Max.

While HBO already was trying to take on the streaming big dogs like Hulu and Netflix with the stand-alone service, HBO Now, it’s going even bigger.

The platform will include “Friends,” the ’90s ensemble sitcom Netflix has been shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to keep. It also will have HBO and CW shows, the debut of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to a streaming platform and other Warner-owned properties. A price is yet to be announced.

This is all well and good, but what about people who don’t want to shell out money for another streaming service? The answer is Pluto TV, a free streaming platform with the wildest lineup of programming I’ve ever seen.

While it’s been around since 2013, Pluto has come into its own this year after being purchased by Viacom, which owns companies like MTV and Comedy Central.

The channel lineup answers the question: “Where do all of the TV shows and movies go when no other streaming service wants them?”

There are channels dedicated to shows like “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Guy Code” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” There are entire stations showcasing forgotten MTV dating and teen shows like “Parental Control” and “Made.” There are two channels showcasing Spike TV shows — a channel that no longer exists. There are also channels for classic cartoons, Comedy Central’s stand-up specials and, of course, cats.

Going through the lineup is like continuously saying to yourself “Why does this exist?” But then you run across a classic “Mr. Bean” sketch, Impact wrestling match or weird cult movie like “Mac & Me” and it kind of justifies its existence.

Everything about Pluto feels like it’s running by the seat of its pants. Commercials will randomly pop up out of nowhere, sometimes at a completely different volume. For example, when Robert Stack was about to reveal the mystery of an “Unsolved Mysteries,” he was interrupted mid-sentence by an ad with MLB star Frank Thomas talking to women about testosterone.

The TV guide doesn’t go beyond two hours, so you’re never sure what will be on. And there’s no DVR feature, so if you miss a show (and it’s not available on the spotty on-demand service), you’ll have to pray it shows up another time when you’re flipping through.

As a dedicated cable customer, I’m intrigued by free streaming services like Pluto TV and whether it will be able to make waves as more premium services pop up. I don’t see people dividing their money for numerous services, but they likely will be on board with free, ad-sponsored stuff like this. And if it improves, it could be a legitimate threat.


Andrew Gaug can be reached at

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