Plex originally made its name as a great way to consume and organize your own local media through its server capabilities. I, personally, switched from using Kodi to Plex in recent years as the primary way of watching my own media collection for a number of reasons. The days of Plex being a constantly improving hub for your local media might be numbered as the app now has more users watching its ad-supported streaming content than using it to watch local content from a Plex Media Server. While that shift is likely great for Plex as a business, it’s reason enough to be concerned if you enjoy its local media capabilities.
In an interview with Jared Newman from TechHive, Plex’s vice president of marketing, Scott Hancock, revealed that there are now more people streaming ad-supported content in Plex than watching content from a local Plex media server. The flip in usage occurred sometime in 2022 and it’s likely safe to assume that trend will continue in 2023. While Hancock says the company is still focused on its local media features, you have to wonder how long that will last if the ad-supported streaming users continue to outpace the server users.
Plex dipped its toes into streaming content when it added access to news clips to its app in 2017. It wasn’t until the tail end of 2019 that Plex really started to lean into streaming content with the addition of a library of free ad-support movies and TV shows. That was closely followed up with the addition of live streaming channels in 2020. Those additions seem to have worked out well, seeing how they are more popular than the app’s original capabilities as a local media player.
For Plex users only interested in its local media capabilities, the ad-supported streaming offerings are, thankfully, very easy to hide and ignore. Even with the newer streaming content, the app is as capable as ever as a local media player. However, one has to assume that the over 50% of users that now stream its ad-supported content are generating far more revenue than the likely small percentage of users paying for a Plex Pass to gain additional features for local media playback. If customer use, and likely revenue, continues to shift away from its local media features, how long before Plex decides to abandon local media capabilities altogether?
Plex is also talking to smaller TV manufacturers about the possibility of Plex serving as the OS for TVs, according to Hancock. The app’s recently launched Discover feature does a good job of aggregating and managing streaming content in other apps, much like most smart TV and streaming box OSes. So much so that Amazon felt it was threatening enough to Fire TVs that it crippled the feature. Plex is also well-versed in handling TV tuners, thanks to its OTA DVR features, so it wouldn’t take much to turn the app into a full-fledged TV OS, assuming it piggybacks on top of Android and the Google Play Store, much like what Tivo did with its Tivo Stream 4K.
With Plex’s user base shifting away from local media and towards streaming content, it really seems like fans of its original local server-based capabilities should be at least a little worried about the app’s future. I hope I’m wrong and Plex continues to devote enough resources towards the media server capabilities, as Hancock has indicated they are currently doing, but this may be the beginning of the end for the Plex of old.