Deeper Dive—Xumo, Tubi, Pluto TV and the monthly active user debate

Xumo this week became the latest ad-supported streaming service to fire off an impressive new monthly active user total. But there’s some questions about what that metric really means.

The service, which was acquired earlier this year by Comcast, said that since January it’s experienced 2.5x growth and expanded its monthly active user total to more than 24 million. Xumo CEO Colin Petrie-Norris attributed the growth in part to the on-demand catalog being deeply integrated with Comcast Xfinity X1 and Flex, which has led to nearly 40% increase in viewing sessions on those platforms.

Comcast has deployed its X1 platform/set-top box to a significant portion of its video subscriber footprint and the company also just passed two million Flex devices deployed. Xumo’s MAU total is based on actual active, unique devices tuning in to Xumo per month. So, it makes sense that Comcast’s deeper integration of Xumo on X1 and Flex would help spark big growth in MAUs.

Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia, said however that counting MAUs on a one-to-one basis doesn’t account for multiple viewers. Given how much viewing happens on connected TVs, it’s likely lots of co-viewing is happening.

Tubi, which recently reported 33 million monthly active users, said it calculates its totals by using the number of unique devices that interact with the Tubi apps. The company said the figure does not account for co-viewing or other calculations, and that the MAU count is only based on interactions with Tubi-branded apps and does not include embedded players or clips.

Pluto TV chief business officer Jeff Shultz told Dixon that his company, which reported 26.5 million domestic MAUs in August, also calculates the metric on a one-to-one basis.

So, there’s the question of how many viewers are actually watching when a device interacts with an app from either Pluto TV, Tubi or Xumo. There’s also the question of how much time or engagement is required to assign the monthly active label to a user.

“There’s no standard for MAUs,” said Dixon. “We still don’t know what qualifies as an active user.”

He said he’s pessimistic that MAUs will end up being the most reliable measure of performance for AVOD/FAST service and thinks that Nielsen and Comscore will eventually start using their panels to measure usage.

Pluto TV anticipates the ad-supported streaming industry will eventually reach a consensus on measurement.

“As the industry continues to see greater adoption of AVOD, we hope and expect over time that an industry-wide, standardized set of user engagement metrics will emerge,” said a Pluto TV spokesperson.

Despite some uncertainty around metrics, Dixon said that it’s still clear that these services are reaching tens of millions of people each month and that advertisers, who are very likely getting a lot more usage data, are increasingly satisfied with these platforms. MoffettNathanson predicts the AVOD industry will increase at a 34% compound annual growth rate over the next five years and total nearly $14 billion by 2024.

“We know that the [AVOD/FAST] industry is significant and that it is being used,” Dixon said.