Comcast, ViacomCBS Bosses Reportedly Met to Discuss International Streaming Pact

Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts, and ViacomCBS chairman Shari Redstone and CEO Bob Bakish reportedly met recently to discuss partnering in an international streaming video venture.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said the executives met at the end of June in New York to discuss possible scenarios in which the two media giants could partner in advancing their respective streaming platforms.

Shari Redstone

Comcast’s NBCUniversal launched the Peacock SVOD/AVOD platform last summer, while ViacomCBS transitioned CBS All Access into Paramount+ in March. Both platforms have international aspirations in an attempt to remain competitive with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

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Bob Bakish

Working together could benefit the companies as Comcast’s Roberts has publicly expressed a desire to find business partners for international expansion. Paramount+ plans to operate in 45 countries by 2022.

Netflix has seen the bulk of its subscriber growth originate outside the United States, while one-third of Disney+ subs come from India. Comcast also owns streaming service Now TV in the United Kingdom, operated by its Sky satellite TV subsidiary.

Regardless, strange bedfellows is indeed a possibility considering that since its launch, Peacock has generated 45 million sign-ups, but reportedly only about 10 million paying subscribers. ViacomCBS in May disclosed that its Paramount+, Showtime OTT and BET+ platforms had a combined paying sub base of 35.9 million.

By comparison, Netflix had 208 million subs at the end of March, a tally that could be closer to 210 million through the streamer’s fiscal second quarter, ended June 30. Prime Video touted 175 million subs two months ago, while Disney+ tops 103 million.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish: Pluto TV to Exceed $1 Billion in Revenue by Q4

ViacomCBS has put much of its content distribution future on the Paramount+ subscription streaming service, but the media giant is already dominating the ad-supported streaming market, said ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

Speaking at the virtual Evercore ISI Inaugural TMT Conference, Bakish said the global AVOD market, which is exploding as consumers migrate away from pay-TV and toward over-the-top video, is going to be worth about $50 billion in the next four years. Leading the bull run: Pluto TV, which ViacomCBS acquired in 2019 for $340 million. Pluto TV founder Tom Ryan is now CEO of streaming at ViacomCBS.

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“[Pluto TV] is the U.S. market leader, and it’s also undergoing rapid international expansion, making us a global leader as well,” Bakish said. “You look at the U.S., and based on all the data we see, we lead on the [50 million monthly average users] side, we lead on the viewership side and we lead on the revenue side.”

Bakish said that when Pluto was acquired, it had generated about $70 million in revenue in the prior year (2018). On a run-rate basis, in Q4 of 2021 this year, the CEO said Pluto will cross the $1 billion level.

“We expect it to be comfortably above $1 billion for full year 2022,” he said. “That is the power of Pluto TV.”

While the platform is essentially still a U.S. business, it is expanding to 25 foreign markets this year.

“So we see where this thing is going,” Bakish said. “We’ve seen where it’s gone in the U.S., and it’s got a ways to go, and we see where it’s going internationally. I couldn’t be more excited about Pluto. I don’t think we get enough credit, quite frankly, for it.”

Bob Bakish: ViacomCBS Looking to Spend $5 Billion on Streaming Content by 2024

ViacomCBS’s ambitious plans to average an original new movie a week on Paramount+ in 2022 now has a price tag: $5 billion. That’s the figure CEO Bob Bakish told shareholders on the May 25 virtual annual meeting.

The company spent a total of $15 billion on all content in 2020, with plans to spend $5 billion exclusively on streaming content by 2024.

ViacomCBS is adding 1,000 movies to the $4.99 monthly with ads ($9.99 without) platform in June; elevating the total to 2,500 movies by July.

“That number includes content exclusively for our streaming services and some allocation of highly valuable content that we’ll use across both streaming and traditional [television and theatrical distribution],” Bakish said.

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Bob Bakish

As previously reported, in June Paramount+ will exclusively debut the new science-fiction thriller Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, skipping theaters in the process. It was originally slated to launch in theaters on Sept. 24.

Paramount Pictures shortened to 45 days theatrical windows for  A Quiet Place Part II and Mission: Impossible 7 in an effort to expedite access to the SVOD platform. New “Paranormal Activity” and “Pet Sematary” releases will also forgo theatrical distribution.

“You will see us scale up more of our content on Paramount+,” Bakish said, adding that select scripted series such as supernatural drama “Evil” would be moving from linear channels to streaming.

“Season one was a hit on Netflix,” Bakish said. “Season two will be moving exclusively to Paramount+.”

CBS series “Seal Team” will debut select episodes on the network this fall before moving the entire season onto streaming.

CEO: Paramount+ Free Trial Conversion Better Than CBS All Access

When Paramount+ launched March 4, absorbing the existing CBS All Access subscription streaming service, new subscribers were offered a generous 30-day free trial period. That policy, which ended March 31, resulted in higher conversion rates to paid subscriptions ($5.99 monthly with ads; $9.99 without) than had occurred at All Access, according to Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS.

Speaking May 6 on the company’s fiscal call, Bakish said a strategy of frontloading Paramount+ with movies and the Super Bowl helped reduce churn and increase the paid base.

“Believe it or not, the conversion rate was actually marginally above our historical trial conversion rates,” Bakish said. “So we are happy about that.”

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According to Parks Associates, about 30% of free trial users convert to paid subscriptions, with just 1% of users becoming so-called “serial trialers,” jumping from one free subscription period to the next. Most SVOD platforms have reduced free trial periods to seven days.

“Most consumers use trials for their intended purpose of trying out a service before deciding whether or not to continue as a paid subscriber,” read the Parks report.

Bakish said Paramount+ is focused on “ramping up” original content from throughout the ViacomCBS brands, in addition to releasing a new movie weekly on the platform, beginning in 2022. The platform will exclusively debut Mark Wahlberg’s new sci-fi thriller Infinite in June.

“Both conversion and churn [at Paramount+] improved in April, both versus prior-year and versus March,” Bakish said. “We feel great about what we’re seeing in this area.”

Paramount+ ended the quarter with 36 million subs globally when combined with Showtime OTT. The two services topped 19.4 million subs in the U.S. through Feb. 24.

Paramount+ to Debut New Mark Wahlberg Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Infinite’

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) in June will exclusively debut the new science-fiction thriller Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said on the May 6 first-quarter (ended March 31) fiscal call.

The movie will skip theaters, Bakish said. It was originally slated to launch in theaters on Sept. 24 — then subsequently got pushed up to Memorial Day, according to Box Office Mojo.

The move mirrors WarnerMedia’s strategy to release the entire 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical slate concurrently on its streaming service HBO Max and in theaters — a strategy corporate parent AT&T has attributed to ongoing Max sub growth.

Paramount, which generated a record low $1 million in revenue during the 90-day fiscal period due to shuttered theaters, had previously announced shortened theatrical windows for  A Quiet Place Part II and Mission: Impossible 7 in an effort to expedite access on Paramount+. New “Paranormal Activity” and “Pet Sematary” releases will now also forgo theatrical distribution for the streamer.

Paramount previously licensed Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and the comedy The Lovebirds to Netflix. The studio also licensed rights to Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan, and Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America to Amazon Prime Video. Oscar winner The United States vs. Billie Holiday was licensed to Hulu.

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Paramount+ will add 1,000 movies in June as part of a “Mountain of Movies” marketing campaign designed to upgrade the platform’s title count to 2,500.

“All of this is a preview to a substantial ramping up of original movies next year, when we expect to begin averaging an original movie a week in 2022,” Bakish said.

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.