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Can Spotify Pioneer Ken Parks Change Online TV?

Ken Parks recently left music-streaming giant Spotify for Pluto TV, a startup devoted to real-time web content. Here's why.

Can Spotify Pioneer Ken Parks Change Online TV?

Ken Parks
Then: Chief Content Officer, Spotify
Now: Executive Chairman, Pluto TV

[Photo: Victoria Stevens]

Is passive viewing passé? With TV watchers increasingly ditching cable for streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, that old habit of flipping through random channels is fading. But while people love the convenience and control of streaming, many miss the let’s-just-see-what’s-on aspect of traditional TV.

At least that’s what Ken Parks is hoping. Last fall, Parks—who previously oversaw all of Spotify’s U.S. operations—joined two-year-old video-streaming company Pluto TV, a free platform offering more than 100 channels of live-running content: everything from old Cheers episodes to a live feed of the Bloomberg News channel. "Services like Netflix have achieved remarkable success and scale, but if you look at the data and people’s behavior, the dominant use case for TV is lean-back, linear viewing," says Parks. "When you actually survey what’s happening in the space, we think that is being neglected."

Though for now all of Pluto’s content is licensed (the company makes money via advertising), Parks is considering adding original programming, as well as video on demand and, not surprisingly, a premium pay tier. "One of the great things Spotify did was walk people through a journey from free to paid," he says. "Freemium has been vindicated. You’re seeing the same thing happening with television."

What Inspires him

"Opportunities that arise out of change. From all that I’ve experienced, change happens fast. The world can look really different in a few years’ time."

Best Recent Tech Development

"What’s happening with health care and gene therapy and very personalized approaches to treating cancer."

Favorite Thing to Watch on Pluto

"I love the extreme-sports channels, and I watch the Hockey Fights channel, which is 24/7 hockey fights. I grew up in Philadelphia in the era of the Broad Street Bullies. I guess that’s just in my blood."

Sweat It Out

"I’m an avid exerciser. I do a round of resistance training and cardio training five days a week. It helps me think better and negotiate better."

How he stays productive

"I focus on the goal we’re trying to achieve maybe six months out and prioritize everything attached to that. Everything that’s not, I try to clear out of my day."

A version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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