Bob Bakish Defends Paramount+ Shortened Theatrical Window

Notable to the Feb. 24 Paramount+ media presentation was the fact the platform would stream first-run Paramount Pictures theatrical releases as early as 30 days after their box office debut. The move mirrors similar efforts at other studios, notably by Universal Pictures, to release its movies into consumer homes as early as 17 days after their theatrical bow depending on ticket sales.

Speaking March 2 on the virtual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish supported the decision to make movies available early on the Paramount+ streaming service.

He said the fact CBS All Access is assuming the Paramount+ moniker on March 4 underscores the importance of feature films and the studio brand in the streaming platform market. To drive that home, Paramount+ will have access to select tentpole titles 30 days to 45 days after their box office debut — beginning with The Quiet Place Part II. Other movies streaming early on the SVOD platform include Mission: Impossible 7 and Paw Patrol.

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Paramount+ is launching priced at $9.99 monthly with no ads except on CBS TV live programming. An ad-supported $5.99 option will reduce to $4.99 in June. Expansion of the platform internationally will include Showtime OTT, but not CBS News or live sports.

“I believe that is a sustainable offering,” Bakish said, alluding to exhibitor concerns an abbreviated theatrical window would undermine the industry. “Some of these other film moves that have been made, it’s not clear that they’re sustainable.”

Bakish said industry data suggests most movies’ box office withers after 30 days, if not sooner. He said Paramount boss Jim Gianopulos held discussions with theater operators and talent before making the decision to shorten the window.

“This move puts the titles in the theaters so people that want to get a big-screen experience can do that … with moving 45 days later to an in-house streaming service works for constituents and certainly for us,” he said. “We believe it’s the right model for the future, and as we implement it, the facts will prove that out.”

In addition, the SVOD platform’s new distribution agreement with MGM-owned Epix, affords Paramount+ access to 2,500 third-party movies Bakish characterized as very high quality, beginning June 4. The SVOD service will also have access to Epix pay-one product and originals.

“It’s a killer offering for film lovers,” he said. “We believe streaming is a global opportunity. [Paramount+] is a differentiated product. It’s not a replica of anything else out there. It is a tremendous offering.”

Paramount+ Aims to Reverse the CBS Age Demo

NEWS ANALYSIS — When CBS All Access morphs into Paramount+ on March 4, Bob Bakish, CEO of corporate parent ViacomCBS, is hoping to reverse the CBS brand’s aging process by 20 years. The network has long coveted older viewers (55+) as a means of generating strong Nielsen ratings and advertisers. But in the over-the-top video ecosystem, age is not a friend or desired demo. Millennials, not 60-and-older television viewers, stream video in large percentages.

As a result, in addition to appealing to older sports viewers with mainstays such as the NFL and the PGA Tour, Paramount+ is betting big on NCAA sports and UEFA European professional soccer — the latter exclusive to the U.S. market and popular with younger male viewers. Paramount Pictures is also producing sequels to Flashdance, The Italian Job, Love Story and Grease, among other classic movies, to keep the nostalgia going.

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If you look at CBS All Access, it is [skewing] about 20 years younger, so materially younger audience on the same schedule of programming,” Bakish told Fox Business Network’s “Barron’s Roundtable.”

To capture as wide a streaming demo as possible, Paramount+ will incorporate programming from across the ViacomCBS portfolio, including MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, BET, also the Smithsonian brand in the documentary space. The $4.99 and $9.99 (ad-free) platform features 30,000 episodes of library product across all brands, plus a slate of 36 original series for 2021 — increasing to 50 in 2022.

Interestingly, catalog episodes of “Criminal Minds” on Netflix ranked No. 1 recently by Nielsen. Paramount+ will stream all seasons of the long-running series, in addition to new spin-offs of the franchise.

Separately, the streamer will have the entire Nickelodeon catalog, including all the “SpongeBob SquarePants” episodes, plus the new “SpongeBob” movie as well as “Kamp Koral,” the first SpongeBob franchise spinoff.

The platform is also going deep with reality TV, including a new version of MTV’s “The Challenge,” “Big Brother” and “Love Island.”

“We’re adding a lot of content, both original and library,” Bakish said. “It appeals really across demographics, and that’s going to make Paramount+ a much broader service than the All Access it’s replacing, including appealing to a much wider demographic.”

 

Paramount Has Steep SVOD Mountain to Climb

NEWS ANALYSIS — In the TV ad, actor Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: Picard”), dressed in a tuxedo, summons a group of characters from various ViacomCBS television shows, including puzzled PGA Tour golfer Bryson DeChambeau, atop the icy 29,150-foot “Paramount Mountain” to talk about their pending subscription streaming VOD home, Paramount+, which launches March 4.

“What are we supposed to do up here?” asks a bundled up Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” “We dance,” replies Stewart. “Sure, let’s make it weirder,” deadpans comic Stephen Colbert.

If the TV personalities seem confused, imagine how ViacomCBS brass feel tasked with bowing the market’s sixth new SVOD platform in the past 17 months? CEO Bob Bakish is slated to reveal further details on the media company’s Feb. 24 investor day.

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The Paramount Mountain ad is the third of four commercials that began airing in the past month touting the latest SVOD competitor in a market saturated by Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, among others. By all accounts, Paramount+ — like the namesake studio — faces an uphill path to market share or relevance.

Netflix ended 2020 with more than 203 million subscribers, followed by Disney with 146 million (Disney Plus, Hulu, Hulu+Live TV, ESPN Plus) and Amazon, which disclosed 100 million Prime Video subs in 2018. By comparison, ViacomCBS had 16 million combined subs for CBS All Access and Showtime OTT at the end of the most-recent fiscal period. And only All Access is morphing into Paramount+.

“They are in a scripted-entertainment arms race with companies that are just so much bigger,” MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson told Bloomberg. “They need to do something to attract more subscribers.”

Paramount+ will cost $5.99 monthly/$59.99 annually with limited commercials, and $9.99/$99 for a commercial-free option. To entice subscribers, ViacomCBS is offering a 50% discount on the annual fee when using the promotional code “ParamountPlus” until March 3.

Surprisingly, among challenges facing Paramount+ out the gate: Exclusive content. Following a pandemic 2020, Bakish licensed away rights to Paramount Pictures movies and Paramount Television content, including “Yellowstone” to NBCUniversal’s rival Peacock SVOD platform. The series, starring Kevin Costner as a cattle rancher in Montana, is Paramount Network’s biggest-ever TV show.

Indeed, Paramount Television produces shows for Netflix, Amazon and Facebook. For instance, the show “Jack Ryan” is on Prime Video. The company launched Viacom Digital Studios to produce social media friendly content for outlets such as Facebook.

“They sold everything to Netflix,” said Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter. “They got addicted to the earnings stream.”

Bakish admits the license deals are financially accretive to the bottom line; telling a CES event in January that he believes “there’s a lot of value in assets that we already own.” The executive contends the goal is “unlocking opportunity through truly multi-platform distribution,” whether it be AVOD, SVOD, legacy platforms or other models.

VIacomCBS has made a huge push into AVOD through the 2019 acquisition of Pluto TV. Its founder, Tom Ryan, is now in charge of ViacomCBS Streaming, overseeing all streaming and digital platforms including Paramount+.

“Relative to some of our peers, we’re further along in this [digital] transition,” Bakish said.

Raffaele Annecchino Upped to CEO of ViacomCBS Networks International

With major focus on international streaming and sub growth in 2021, ViacomCBS Dec. 10 announced it has promoted longtime executive Raffaele Annecchino to CEO of ViacomCBS Networks International. The 23-year veteran replaces David Lynn, who is departing the company after 24 years following the transition period, and reports to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

Annecchino has held a number of positions across ViacomCBS Networks International, formerly Viacom International Media Networks, most recently as president of ViacomCBS Networks Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Raffaele Annecchino

“Raffaele is an entrepreneurial, results-oriented leader with a proven ability to transform businesses and drive growth across diverse markets,” Bakish said in a statement. “His experience in expanding ViacomCBS’s international footprint, forging key partnerships and accelerating our push into mobile and digital platforms will be critical to building on our leadership positions across Europe, Latin America and Asia and realizing our global ambitions.”

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Annecchino’s achievements include the launch and acquisition of free-to-air channels in the key markets of Italy, Spain and Germany, and the creation of a new business unit in September 2020 to help drive ViacomCBS’s digital businesses across the EMEAA region. He also led the expansion of Pluto TV in Europe, including launches in Spain and the upcoming roll out in France and Italy in 2021.

ViacomCBS CEO: Monthly Pluto TV Users to Reach 40 Million Globally, 19 Million SVOD Subs by Year’s End

ViacomCBS is ending 2020 with some good news. The company expects 40 million average global monthly users of its ad-supported Pluto TV platform, and 19 million combined SVOD subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime OTT. The updated numbers were disclosed Dec. 8 by CEO Bob Bakish on the virtual UBS Global Investor event.

“We now see domestic streaming and digital revenue, which does include some ad sales, at an annual run rate in Q4 of $3 billion dollars,” Bakish said, adding that the tally is up from the $2.8 billion projected on the previous fiscal call. “That implies over 50% growth in the [fourth] quarter.”

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish

Bakish said the revenue projection underscores his positivity around streaming video as a major future for the company. ViacomCBS plans to hold an investor event in early 2021 to discuss the company’s streaming strategy, which includes further details on the rollout of the rebooted CBS All Access service as Paramount+.

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“We’ll give an update on our entire streaming ecosystem, which includes Pluto TV and Showtime OTT, and how we’re using the great assets of the company to pursue a global streaming strategy,” Bakish said.

Notably, Bakish said ViacomCBS would look to differentiate content offerings across ad-supported Pluto TV, Paramount+ and Showtime OTT, underscoring the fact the latter service would remain separate from Paramount+ in 2021. Bakish said Pluto would act as a link toward the company’s SVOD channels.

“I think it’s fair to say the world is quickly embracing free streaming, which is why Pluto TV is key to our strategy,” he said, adding that streaming video — driven by an average of more than three services in the average U.S. home — represents a global opportunity for the media company.

“It’s definitely a growing category,” Bakish said.

Indeed, Paramount+ will look to combine live sports, breaking news and a “deep roster” of exclusive originals and content franchises for “every audience,” according to Bakish.

“This is a cross-demographic product,” he said.

Bakish outlined a few original series, including limited series “The Offer,” about the making of The Godfather; new SpongeBob kids series “Camp Coral,” which drops after the debut of movie SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run on Paramount+; and a  new series from “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan.

“There’s no question in my mind that our streaming strategy is working,” Bakish said.

ViacomCBS CEO: ‘Paramount+’ Rebranding Gives New Life to Studio

ViacomCBS’s move to rebrand subscription streaming video service CBS All Access to Paramount+ in 2021 could be the spark that returns the famed Paramount Pictures studio to global prominence, CEO Bob Bakish told an investor event.

Speaking Sept. 15 during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Bakish said the Paramount name resonates globally, giving the rebooted CBS All Access service greater appeal as it is supersized for worldwide access to compete against Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

“It’s a brand with a history of innovation, it’s over a century old, and a legacy of producing great content,” Bakish said. “It’s a brand that has always brought people together to enjoy the entertainment experience. Importantly, it’s a brand that also leverages ViacomCBS’s global position with near universal brand recognition. The fact is consumers all over the world know the Paramount brand, and they love it. So it’s a natural choice for us.”

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Indeed, Paramount could use the jolt. The studio is the fifth-oldest in the world, the second-oldest in the U.S. after Universal Pictures, and the only major still headquartered in Los Angeles. In addition to select “Transformers” movies, the studio’s biggest franchise (six movies) in recent years has been “Mission: Impossible” with Tom Cruise, generating a combined $3.6 billion at the global box office. The studio has also fared well with Sonic the Hedgehog, A Quiet Place and television production of “Yellowstone,” starring Kevin Costner.

“It is really the beginning of an exciting new chapter for one of the most storied brands in Hollywood,” Bakish said.

CBS All Access Re-Ups Amazon Prime Channels Distribution

ViacomCBS Sept. 9 disclosed that its branded subscription streaming video-on-demand service, CBS All Access, has renewed distribution through Amazon Channels. The latter is a platform for Prime members enabling access to third-party over-the-top video services for a separate or reduced fee. Amazon keeps a percentage of revenue and user intel from each service while delivering them millions subscribers.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, speaking Sept. 9 on the Bank of America Virtual Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, said the distribution deal with Amazon contributed to All Access and Showtime OTT generating 16 million combined subscribers through the end of the most-recent fiscal period. 

Bob Bakish

“[Amazon] continue[s] to be an excellent partner for us, and we for them,” Bakish said.

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With Disney generating incremental Disney+ subs by bundling the SVOD with Hulu and ESPN+, Bakish was asked if All Access, Showtime and Pluto TV would be bundled. The executive said the platforms would continue to be marketed separately and in select bundles.

The media giant currently offers a $9.99 monthly bundle of All Access and Showtime on Apple TV Channels — a branded platform affording iOS users access to third-party OTT video services for a separate fee. ViacomCBS has separate deals with with Comcast, Verizon and Viveo, among others.

Bakish said the agreements help maximize the value of ViacomCBS content across all platforms, and allows the company to benefit from an ecosystem that is becoming more integrated over time. The executive said ViacomCBS would explore other bundling opportunities as well as more generally increased distribution through other streaming partnerships.

“We believe this approach serves the broadest set of consumers’ needs and therefore the largest consumer base,” Bakish said. “It enables the most ubiquitous distribution, and we’ve learned overtime ubiquitous distribution is extremely powerful.”

Analyst to ViacomCBS: ‘Stop Feeding Netflix’ Original Content

ViacomCBS more than most media giants has aggressively licensed Paramount Pictures and related content to third-party distributors such as Netflix and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, among others, driven in part by the coronavirus pandemic. The strategy has led some Wall Street analysts to question how generating short-term revenue helps ViacomCBS’s plan to launch a global subscription streaming video platform in 2021.

Steven Cahall, media analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, contends ViacomCBS is shooting itself in the foot licensing content to media rivals instead of hoarding content for proprietary brands Pluto TV, CBS All Access and Showtime.

In the most-recent fiscal report, CEO Bob Bakish disclosed the company’s pending “house of brands” streaming platform designed to expand the global reach of CBS All Access.

“We’re accelerating our plans for an expanded subscription service, building off CBS All Access, with major changes coming this summer, as we track towards the rebrand and relaunch of a transformed product,” Bakish said in May.

In meantime, Cahall would like to see the company stop licensing away content better saved for its own over-the-top video platforms.

“We want to see [ViacomCBS] cease licensing marquee Paramount and Showtime content to competitors and stop feeding services like Netflix with originals,” Cahall wrote in a Aug. 27 note. “Our [stock] upgrade contemplates [the company] using divestiture cash to wean itself from licensing.”

Cahall suggests consolidating content could help increase combined subscribers to CBS All Access, Showtime, Noggin and BET+ to 26.6 million by 2026 from 11.2 million in 2019. Total SVOD revenue would skyrocket to $1.5 billion in 2025 from $779 million last year.

The analyst says the new “house of brands” service should retail from $10-$15 monthly — the latter comparable to HBO Max.

‘[The] closer [the price is] to $15 then the launch may be less enticing for consumers,” Cahall wrote.

CBS All Access and Showtime OTT Top 16.2 Million Combined Subs

ViacomCBS — which is planning to rebrand CBS All Access into a “super service” on par with HBO Max, Peacock and Disney+ — Aug. 6 reported its SVOD services CBS All Access and Showtime OTT reached 16.2 million combined subscribers through the second quarter ended June 30.

That’s up 74% from 9.3 million subs during the previous-year period.

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The company announced All Access continued to break undisclosed records, with paid subs, streams and minutes watched reaching all-time highs in the quarter — driven by original programming, Paramount movies and children’s content from Nickelodeon. Showtime OTT also delivered its “best quarter ever” in subscriber sign-ups, streams and minutes watched, the company announced, driven by original programming, including “Homeland,” “Billions” and “The Chi.”

Separately, ViacomCBS-owned AVOD platform Pluto TV grew its domestic monthly active users 61% to 26.5 million, from 16.5 million during the previous-year period. In April, Pluto TV entered 17 Latin American markets, and in addition to its presence in Europe, this expansion brought Pluto TV’s total international monthly users to 6.5 million — or 33 million worldwide. Pluto TV increased its platform distribution through deals with Verizon, TiVo and LG.

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ViacomCBS said domestic streaming and digital video revenue in the quarter rose to $489 million, up 25% year-over-year, driven by 52% growth in streaming subscription revenue.

“Our results underscored … rapid acceleration of our streaming business, where we achieved record users and revenue in free and pay while building toward the relaunch of our diversified super service,” CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement.

Indeed, last month ViacomCBS unveiled the first major step in transforming All Access in early 2021. The company added more than 3,500 episodes from the ViacomCBS portfolio, spanning series from BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Smithsonian and more. The All Access library now has more than 20,000 episodes and movies. The platform will be home to a slate of new original and exclusive movies and series, including “Big Brother Live Feeds,” “The Stand,”  animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” feature film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, and “Kamp Koral,” a new original kids’ series premiering in 2021 and the first spinoff derived from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

The new All Access will also feature live programming, including news, tentpole events, sports, local CBS stations nationwide and CBSN, CBS News, The Super Bowl, The Grammy Awards, The Academy of Country Music Awards and The Tony Awards. It will also feature major sporting events from golf to football to basketball and UEFA club soccer competitions as the exclusive streaming home to the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League in the United States.

Bakish: Paramount Jumpstarting Biz Through Digital Retail

Paramount Pictures, like other studios, has seen its production business and theatrical slate upended by the coronavirus pandemic. The studio has been able to keep the lights on over the past three months in large part to transactional VOD and premium VOD, according to ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

Speaking on the first Credit Suisse Virtual Communication Confab, Bakish said home entertainment has helped Paramount justify capital spending on new movies during a year of uncertainty.

“We sold The Lovebirds [to Netflix] early in the COVID-19 window,” he said. “We also accelerated the EST window with Sonic [the Hedgehog], which performed very well for us.”

The movie, starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, gross more than $300 million at the global box office before the theatrical shutdown.

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The executive said the company is monetizing the Paramount library by releasing more than 100 movies via CBS All Access and through the Sunday Night Movie on the Paramount Network.

“We’re already seeing a material benefit on the time-spent side by consumers,” Bakish said.

“Look, COVID in the short term has set us back in terms of film releases and TV productions, obviously,” he said. “But we continue to see a path to nicely improved profitability over the longer term.”