Plex wants to become the first app you open on your TV every day

With 13 million monthly active users and counting, Plex is adding deep links to other streaming services. Will the company succeed where others failed?


Universal search and discovery have long been a holy grail for the streaming industry, but platform operators' efforts have been held back by industry power struggles.

Image: Plex

Plex has an audacious plan to become the daily go-to app for everyone’s streaming needs: The media center app rolled out new universal search, watchlist and discovery features Tuesday that are designed to help people find and keep track of all of the shows and movies available across a growing universe of streaming services.

“The app dance, going from app to app to find something to watch, just doesn’t make any sense,” said Plex’s senior product and design director, Jason Williams. Instead, Williams hopes that people will just open Plex to browse everything that’s new on various streaming services, and then follow deep links to directly launch playback on Netflix, Hulu or anywhere else.

“You’re going to open up Plex every day,” Williams said. “It’s going to be your trusted source.”

Universal search and discovery have long been a holy grail for the streaming industry, but efforts by platform operators to integrate these types of features directly into the smart TV home screen have been held back by industry power struggles. Plex hopes it can avert some of those issues, and is betting on the ingenuity of its power users to help out along the way.

Plex has been teasing plans for its universal watchlist for some time on its website, as Protocol was first to report in December. The new app integration goes further and bridges people’s personal media libraries with all the content available across the streaming universe. Movies recorded with Plex’s DVR show up alongside streaming titles from Netflix as well as Plex’s own free, ad-supported movie library, and registered users can select the services they subscribe to as their default results. People can also add a movie or show to their watchlist and then get notified when it appears on a streaming service they subscribe to, or keep access to it even if it moves from one service to another.

In addition to universal search and a universal watchlist across multiple streaming services as well as personal media, Plex is also launching a dedicated discovery section in its app that highlights new titles on Netflix and other services. Over time, the company plans to further personalize these recommendations by adding social features and more. Also planned for the coming months: the integration of transactional VOD content, aka paid movies and shows.

All of this is part of Plex’s plan to become a one-stop shop for all things streaming media. To facilitate this, Plex raised $50 million in funding last year; the company followed up with another $20 million in funding earlier this year.

That money has helped to build out its ad-supported video platform, which in turn has led to significant growth on all fronts. The company grew its revenue by 40% last year, CEO Keith Valory told Protocol, and is looking to further accelerate that growth this year. Plex is now seeing 13 million monthly active users, with Valory forecasting user growth of 40% to 50% in 2022. “From a business standpoint, things have never been better,” he said.

Plex’s primary revenue driver has long been its “Plex Pass” membership program, which gives subscribers access to advanced features. Valory said that this part of its business would continue to be very important for the company, but ad-supported video has clearly been the biggest growth engine as of late. “In 2022, ad-supported revenue will easily surpass Plex Pass revenue,” Valory said.

Plex is not alone with the idea of supercharging streaming with universal search and discovery. Smart TV platform operators like Amazon and Google are increasingly betting on content-forward interfaces that replace app icons with individual movies and TV shows; Roku, Apple, Samsung and others have been offering universal search on their respective platforms as well.

However, these implementations often live and die with the business relationships of these respective platforms — business relationships that tend to break down every so often as companies battle for streaming supremacy. Owners of Google’s Chromecast dongle, for instance, can’t add Netflix titles to the device’s watchlist; Android TV owners can browse movies for rent through Apple’s Apple TV app, but are then being told to open their iPad to actually rent them.

Plex isn’t totally immune to those challenges. The company is still working on getting deep linking to work on Samsung and LG smart TVs, and is in talks with Roku to be allowed to do the same. But ultimately, executives hope that they will be able to work with everyone, in part because the company doesn’t operate its own streaming devices, removing the complexity of app distribution deals.

“We are a little bit of a Switzerland,” Williams said.

And if Plex does get caught up in the streaming wars, it is hoping to make use of a secret weapon: its longtime power users. Over time, Plex wants to open up its universal search, watchlist and discovery to its API, and enable developers to come up with third-party tools that Plex itself may not be able to build. “The plan is to make it a little bit more flexible than other services, and then see what the community does with it,” said Chief Product Officer Scott Olechowski.


Gavin Newsom shows crypto some California love

“A more flexible approach is needed,” Gov. Newsom said in rejecting a bill that would require crypto companies to get a state license.

Strong bipartisan support wasn’t enough to convince Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

The Digital Financial Assets Law seemed like a legislative slam dunk in California for critics of the crypto industry.

But strong bipartisan support — it passed 71-0 in the state assembly and 31-6 in the Senate — wasn’t enough to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom that requiring crypto companies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is the smart path for California.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Slack’s rallying cry at Dreamforce: No more meetings

It’s not all cartoon bears and therapy pigs — work conferences are a good place to talk about the future of work.

“We want people to be able to work in whatever way works for them with flexible schedules, in meetings and out of meetings,” Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua told Protocol at Dreamforce 2022.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dreamforce is primarily Salesforce’s show. But Slack wasn’t to be left out, especially as the primary connector between Salesforce and the mainstream working world.

The average knowledge worker spends more time using a communication tool like Slack than a CRM like Salesforce, positioning it as the best Salesforce product to concern itself with the future of work. In between meeting a therapy pig and meditating by the Dreamforce waterfall, Protocol sat down with several Slack execs and conference-goers to chat about the shifting future.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.


SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories