It’s a ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ World at ViacomCBS

“SpongeBob SquarePants” may be an American animated comedy television series originally created for Nickelodeon, but the series about a sea sponge and his aquatic friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom is also a distribution goldmine for ViacomCBS.

So much so that CEO Bob Bakish used the cartoon character to underscore how the media giant hopes to monetize content assets across emerging distribution platforms.

Speaking March 4 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco, Bakish outlined how “SpongeBob” IP helps link ViacomCBS’s three business units: linear television, video streaming and feature film.

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Bakish said the cartoon franchise is currently distributed globally on television, including serving “roughly 40% of all children” in the United States. “SpongeBob” is distributed on both ad-supported Pluto TV and subscription-based CBS All Access and Noggin.

“That provides additional reach as we build out our assets,” Bakish said. “In the studio business, ‘SpongeBob’ will debut its third feature film, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run in the second quarter. That film has tested very well and provides incremental reach and incremental monetization.”

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) generated $140 million at the worldwide box office, including $85 million in the United states. A sequel, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) generated $325 million at the global box office, including $163 million in the U.S.

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Bakish said ViacomCBS is producing two feature-length “SpongeBob” spin-off movies for Netflix, representing a “profitable, low-risk rental business with set margins,” which he said translates to content ownership for separate distribution down the road, including consumer products and recreation.

“So, we’re convinced that both an O&O [owned and operated] and a third-party studio strategy is absolutely right for ViacomCBS,” Bakish said. “We believe that maximizing the value of our content asset, that is what you see us executing in 2020 and beyond.”

At Paramount Pictures, Bakish said the focus is to improve content ROI, which he said means a balanced release slate and co-financed movies. Pending releases include: A Quiet Place Part II and Top Gun: Maverick.

The studio in the most-recent fiscal period generated more revenue from home entertainment than theatrical distribution. Bakish dismissed that “aside” and pointed to Paramount’s improved growth in revenue and earnings over the previous eight fiscal quarters.

He said the studio has ramped up television content production, a business that didn’t exist five years ago. The segment is now producing 27 series, including “13 Reasons Why” for Netflix and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime Video.

Bakish said Paramount’s “pay 1 window,” the period in which content rights are available to premium cable networks as Starz and HBO and subscription streamers like Netflix, has “tremendous” value.

“We’ve certainly gotten calls about it,” he said. “At the same time it certainly has strategic value to us.”

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