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.”

CEO: ViacomCBS Looking to Supersize CBS All Access as Streaming Focus Skyrockets

In just a few years ViacomCBS has gone from owning a kidvid-centric subscription streaming video service (Noggin) to operating AVOD juggernaut Pluto TV, CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, among others.

Speaking from home on the Credit Suisse Virtual Communications Confab, CEO Bob Bakish said the media giant, which owns Paramount Pictures, would launch a reboot of All Access in 2021 with 15,000 hours of additional programming — featuring 200 local CBS TV stations, ad-supported “CBSN,” “Sports HQ” and “ET Live.”

All Access will soon stream the National Women’s Soccer League, which could be the first U.S. professional team sport to return from the COVID-19 break.

“We have a good position in the older segment with the current All Access product, but this really brings a lot of young audience to the table,” Bakish said. “We view streaming as a significant growth opportunity.”

CBS All Access and Showtime OTT topped 13.5 million combined subscribers through the most-recent fiscal period (March 31) — with significant signups since during the virus pandemic.

“We view that as a clear indicator of the growth potential of these products,” Bakish said.

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Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Bakish said the company has seen “robust consumption across all our platforms,” including linear TV news stations and “record” streaming on CBSN.

Separately, the executive said PGA Tour’s return to CBS Sports the weekend of June 11-14 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Dallas/Ft. Worth generated a 50% uptick in TV viewership from the previous-year period. Bakish said the ratings were the highest for a golf event in 15 years.

Comedy Central has also extended “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” to one hour from the previous 30 minutes.

ViacomCBS Looking for $2 Billion in New Debt

With record low interest rates and global pandemic, ViacomCBS is seeking upwards of $2 billion in new debt offerings to help fund operations — notably streaming video — which include Paramount Pictures, Pluto TV, CBS All Access, Nickelodeon, CBS, Showtime Networks, MTV, Comedy Central and BET.

The funding comes on top of $2.5 billion in bonds ViacomCBS issued in April. The media company also has a $3.5 billion credit revolver.

“It means we are in excellent shape from a liquidity perspective,” CEO Bob Bakish said on last week’s fiscal call.

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Bakish said the company plans to launch an international branded streaming video service to compliment All Access, Showtime OTT and Pluto TV in the United States. Showtime and All Access combined to reach 13.5 million subs in the fiscal quarter — up 50% from the previous-year period.

“This service will harness the full power of the of the ViacomCBS portfolio, creating a meaningful brand presence in streaming video in key markets around the world,” Bakish said.

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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.”

ViacomCBS Expanding All Access SVOD Platform to Include Other Brands

ViacomCBS’s flagship subscription streaming service is moving beyond the CBS brand to include other properties within the media giant’s portfolio.

Speaking on the Feb. 20 fiscal call, CEO Bob Bakish said the All Access expansion would include incorporating content from Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, BET and Smithsonian, in addition to movies from the Paramount library.

The company also acquired a 49% stake in Miramax for $375 million, giving ViacomCBS digital properties access to long-term distribution rights to a catalog of more than 700 titles.

“We will do this at scale to the tune of approximately 30,000 TV episodes and up to 1,000 movies,” Bakish said.

The changes come as ViacomCBS domestic streaming and digital video revenue in 2019, which included subscription revenue and digital video advertising, increased 60% to $1.6 billion across Pluto TV, All Access and Showtime OTT.

The company expects domestic streaming and digital video revenue to increase 35% to 40% in 2020 based on SVOD subs reaching 16 million and domestic Pluto monthly average users topping 30 million by the end of the year.

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All Access is available in Canada and Australia, while ViacomCBS Networks International operates a Paramount+ service streaming in parts of Europe and Latin America offering both movies and TV shows.

Bakish said the All Access revamp would occur over the coming months to better “expand the value” of entertainment, news and sports content through on-demand and “live experiences” for subscribers around the world.

Launched in 2014, All Access, which is priced at $5.99 per month with ads ($9.99 without), is different from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu by also offering live sports, including NFL football and more than 200 local CBS affiliate stations.

“We have designed this offering to be compatible with the evolving [over-the-top video] distribution landscape,” Bakish said. “We see it as a value creating opportunity to further broaden our partnerships with traditional distributors, akin to our recent Comcast relationship expansion to All Access.”

ViacomCBS: Pluto TV Expected to Generate 30 Million Monthly Viewers by December

ViacomCBS has high hopes for ad-supported Pluto TV. Acquired in January 2019 for $340 million, the San Francisco-based service now features 80 content channels, 22 million monthly viewers and has become a cornerstone of the media giant’s digital strategy.

The company’s other two high-profile subscription streaming video-on-demand platforms — CBS All Access and Showtime OTT — have a combined 11 million subscribers. That tally is expected to reach 16 million by the end of the year, according to CEO Bob Bakish.

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The sub disclosure is interesting since previous acting CEO Joe Ianniello stated late last year that both services already had reached 16 million subscribers. All Access and Showtime actually ended 2019 with 10 million subs, up from 8 million in 2018.

“The [streaming] growth we’ve achieved so far is overwhelmingly in the U.S., but we’re making early strides to expand internationally,” Bakish said on the Feb. 20 fiscal call.

Pluto TV is available in the U.K., Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with roll out planned in Latin America next month. CBS All Access is available in Canada and Australia and Paramount Plus and Noggin streaming platforms are also available in territories outside the U.S.

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