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Plex nabs $50 million investment as ad-supported video viewing surges

The startup is looking to revamp its ad-supported streaming channels soon.

Plex app

Plex has seen usage of its ad-supported video services grow 5x over the past 12 months.

Image: Plex

Amid growing demand for its ad-supported video services, streaming startup Plex has raised new funding from an existing investor: Toronto-based Intercap is investing a total of $50 million, with around $15 million going straight to the company as a new equity investment. The remaining $35 million will go toward purchasing shares from employees and early seed investors.

The investment comes at a time of industrywide growth for ad-supported video. Plex launched its own ad-supported video service in late 2019, and added free, ad-supported streaming channels last summer. The company saw usage for ad-supported video increase by 5x over the past 12 months, according to Plex CEO Keith Valory, who told Protocol this week that "millions of users" now stream ad-supported videos from Plex. "It's grown very quickly," he said.

As part of building out those services, Plex also began investing more into attracting new users to its platform. Encouraged by the results, the company decided to seek out new funding. "We [wanted to] start pouring more fuel into that and grow our business," Valory said.

In addition to attracting new users and optimizing its advertising business, Plex also plans to use some of the new cash for core product development. One of the next projects will be a redesign of its live TV guide, which will combine over-the-air television and live streaming channels into a single interface. Later this year, Plex aims to add paid content to its apps as well.

Plex is a bit of an outlier in the streaming-media space. While competitors like Tubi and Pluto have focused solely on ad-supported video, Plex has had a much broader product portfolio. The company got its start building apps for power users with large personal media collections. It has since incorporated a wide range of media, including podcasts, online news programming, streaming music, over-the-air television, ad-supported movies and TV shows, and retro video games.

With this approach, Plex wants to establish itself as a kind of one-stop-shop for its users' media needs. It has also allowed Plex to build a business with multiple revenue streams, which include a subscription tier for premium features. "We have been cash-flow positive ever since the Kleiner investment," Valory said. Plex secured a $10 million series B round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins in 2014, and hasn't raised more until now.

However, this breadth of content also means that Plex has been catering to a number of different audiences. Early adopters in particular have at times been vocal critics, with some lamenting that the company was spreading itself too thin. "They are holding our feet to the fire," acknowledged Valory, who said that the company was still investing "millions of dollars" into Plex's core media center functionality.

That group of early adopters is also a key reason why Plex wants to remain independent in the long run, with Valory ruling out the typical startup exit. "The company is not for sale," he told Protocol. "This is a long-term play."

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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