Streamer Plex launches its long-promised movie rentals store

Fresh on the heels of its $40 million fundraise, streaming media company Plex is today announcing its expansion into a new business: a movie rentals storefront. The addition, which will initially be offered to U.S. customers, will give the streamer another means of generating revenue beyond its subscription products and ad-supported streaming — a diversification that will prove critical as the ad market continues to be unpredictable.

At launch, the marketplace will offer movies from top studios, including WB, Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate, and A24, which means Plex users will be able to rent titles like “Barbie,” “Wonka,” “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning,” “The Color Purple,” “Expend4bles,” “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” “Mean Girls,” and others.

Image Credits: Plex

Plex says there will be just over 1,000 titles available to rent, but that number will grow over time. Titles will also move in and out of windows, so the number of rentals will fluctuate over time, as well.

The company had teased its plans for a TV and movie rental marketplace for years, but never quite got to the finish line as other priorities took over. Initially planned for just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, things changed as Plex, like many other companies, saw an influx of streaming customers which shifted its focus. Other technical concerns also slowed things down at times.

However, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, Plex confirmed a rentals marketplace was nearing launch. But as it turns out, the storefront will feature just movies for the time being — not TV shows. It also won’t offer movies for purchase alongside the rentals, because Plex’s user surveys found that rentals were in more demand.

Image Credits: Plex

“We’re looking at the purchase use case because that creates some additional wrinkles — now you’ve got to keep this locker for people long-term and does that really make sense [for us]?,” explained Plex CEO Keith Keith Valory. He noted that the lack of TV show rentals also came from user surveys, which found that most would still turn to streaming services for watching TV, but would be more interested in renting movies.

Once users start a rental, they’ll have 48 hours to finish viewing it, similar to other marketplaces. The movie will also appear in the “Continue Watching” section on Plex’s home screen if you don’t finish watching it upon your first go. The company plans to add more studio partners to its movie rentals store over time, it says.

While there are already plenty of other places where consumers can rent movies today, Plex believes its recommendation capabilities will be a differentiator for its business. Today, Plex’s customers use its software to organize their home media, stream live channels, watch ad-supported TV and movies, and discover new shows across their services or via their friends’ viewing habits through newer social networking features. (The latter got Plex into hot water recently as customers discovered they had shared their viewing of content they’d rather have kept quiet. Plex says it’s adjusted this sharing feature to make it more obvious to users that they were opting in.)

That plethora of user data could help Plex drive more users to movie rentals, the company says. For instance, if you saw that your friend had just watched a new movie that you had on your watchlist, you might be inspired to rent it and watch it, too.

Image Credits: Plex

“I think we’re well ahead of the market from a technology standpoint on our personalization and recommendations,” Valory says. “And we use a fair bit of machine learning and other heuristics to kind of get that. I think one of the advantages we have when we build our recommendation engine is that it’s across all content,” he adds.

Of course, Plex also has to contend with being a partner to studios when, in fact, its software solution is used to store people’s home media collections — including movies ripped from DVDs in years past. The company stresses that not an issue, however, because it works with the studio partners to provide protection capabilities and watermarking to shut down illegal use and protect their copyright in the case that something gets compromised.

The new movie marketplace will launch across platforms, Plex notes, including its apps on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV/Google TV, Roku, smart TVs (LG, Hisense, Samsung, Sony, VIZIO), game consoles, and Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.


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