Paramount CEO Bakish: Charter, Disney Dispute Underscores Need to ‘Modernize’ Pay-TV Deals

With the carriage dispute between Disney and cable TV operator Charter/Spectrum now in its second week, the standoff over the growing fiscal impact direct-to-consumer video distribution has on legacy pay-TV underscores the need to rethink standard business agreements, according to Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global.

Speaking at last week’s Goldman Sachs investor event in San Francisco, Bakish was asked about the dispute, which has elevated beyond the usual public carriage rights negotiations. Charter has blasted Disney’s attempts to increase its fees while it also transitions its distribution beyond pay-TV to branded streaming platforms.

Charter in 2023 is slated to pay Disney $2.2 billion in carriage fees, according to CEO Chris Winfrey, who says that without a better deal, the cabler will not carry Disney content, which includes ESPN.

Bakish said the impasse was inevitable and underscores the need to modernize carriage agreements in the age of DTC.

“Frankly, it wasn’t a surprise; the exact timing was, but it was inevitable that something like this would happen,” Bakish said.

The executive said Paramount management’s strategy has evolved over the years to include co-marketing agreements with pay-TV operators and online TV platforms in the United States for Paramount + Showtime.

“So, [pay-TV] very much ha[s] an interest in the broadband side of our business, video distribution, as well as the linear side of the business,” Bakish said, adding that outside the United States, Paramount+ is carried by Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky, in addition to the SkyShowtime service.

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“When we look at skinny bundles, and Charter Spectrum Essentials is an example of a skinny bundle, we are in that too,” he said.

Bakish said Paramount “fundamentally” believes in multi-platform content distribution, which he contends includes embracing the linear ecosystem and the streaming ecosystem.

“We’re focused on providing our partners solutions as consumer behavior continues to migrate.,” he said. “So yes, inevitably you have to modernize these relationships. You have to do things like again, streaming co-marketing partnerships.

“We’re very pleased by the way with the financial expression of Paramount+ with Showtime on a multi platform basis. And frankly, I think we’re ahead of the curve.”

CEO Bakish Eyeing Price Hike for Paramount+ With Showtime

When the hybrid streaming service Paramount+ with Showtime launched on June 27, it included a 20% monthly price hike to $11.99 from $9.99.  Now, that price point is set to increase again, possibly as early as 2024, according to Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global.

Speaking Sept. 6 at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia & Technology Conference Conference in San Francisco, Bakish said the initial price increase saw little subscriber churn, suggesting a consumer market willing to spend more to stream premium Paramount content, including box office hits.

Paid subscribers is the quickest way to achieving operating income in the direct-to-consumer market. Paramount+  added 700,000 subscribers in the most-recent fiscal quarter, to end the period with 61 million. Bakish thinks the platform can add more subs paying a higher fee, helping the company achieve a 20% increase in ARPU (average revenue per user) in 2024.

“We’re early days … about a month of actual data …[but]… our plan is to raise the price again. We have pricing power in the marketplace. This isn’t our only price increase,” Bakish said. “Whether we do that in ’25, or we do that in ’24, we’ll see. We believe we have a lot of room to run there.”

To help grow subscriptions, Bakish said European launches of Paramount+ in the United Kingdoma and France were done in cooperation with existing distributors, which resulted in lower subscriber acquisition costs. In France, Paramount+ worked with Canal+ to help facilitate better consumer awareness and traction.

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Indeed, the rollout of Paramount+ with existing platforms in the United Kingdom and France helped reduce the need for as much local marketing, content spending and platform spending, according to Bakish, who said the strategy also drives a mutually beneficial relationship with a local streaming player.

“We learned that we were right on the value of partnerships, and what we’ve probably also learned is that we have the opportunity to lean more in that direction,” he said. “There’s more road to run there.”

Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish to be Honored as MIPCOM Cannes ‘Personality of the Year’

MIPCOM Cannes Aug. 21 announced that Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global, will be honored on Oct. 17 with the international entertainment trade show’s “Personality of the Year” award. The 39th edition of MIPCOM Cannes takes place in the Grand Auditorium of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes Oct. 16 – 19.

Bakish will be feted for his leadership and creative contribution to the entertainment industry. The executive is expected to will share from the stage insights from his career and discuss his approach to evolving Paramount at a time of dramatic change across the media landscape.

Past “Personality of the Year” award winners include Bob Greenblatt, Issa Rae, David Zaslav, Shonda Rhimes, Dana Walden & Gary Newman, Simon Cowell and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Bakish, who has led Paramount Global since 2019, oversees a portfolio of multiplatform consumer brands, including flagship streaming services Paramount+ and Pluto TV; the Paramount Pictures movie studio; and television networks CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Channel 5 in the U.K., Network 10 in Australia and Telefe in Argentina, among other properties that together serve audiences in more than 180 countries.

Prior to the merger, Bakish was President/CEO of Viacom since 2016, spearheading the revitalization of the company and returning it to growth across multiplatform content, distribution and advertising. Bakish previously headed Viacom’s international division as President/CEO of Viacom International Media Networks since 2007. Bakish joined Viacom in 1997 from Booz Allen & Hamilton, where he was a partner in its media and entertainment practice.

“Bob Bakish personifies exemplary leadership during these transformative times,” Lucy Smith, director of MIPCOM Cannes, said in a statement.

Smith said the trade group lauds Bakish for his push to combine streaming video and third-party international content licensing as flourishing as business models under one global media company.

[Bakish] is equipping Paramount for its next era, and our…honor could not be timelier or more relevant,” Smith said.

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Paramount CEO: Not Interested in $3B Showtime Offer, Streaming Platform Won’t Be in Less-Expensive Paramount+ Essentials Subscription Tier

Paramount Global’s planned integration of the Paramount+ and Showtime Anytime subscription streaming video services this year will include monthly rate hikes, and Showtime will not be made available on the lower-priced, ad-supported Paramount+ Essentials subscription tier.

CEO Bob Bakish

That’s according to CEO Bob Bakish, speaking March 8 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco, who reiterated past comments on the projected $700 million in synergistic savings, planned $2 and $1 respective monthly rate hikes for Paramount+ Premium and Essentials tiers, and future content focus surrounding legacy Showtime content brands, including “Billions,” “Your Honor,” “Yellowjackets,” “Ray Donovan” and “Dexter,” among other titles.

Bakish disclosed that Showtime would not be available to the pending priced $5.99 Paramount+ Essentials option when the two platforms integrate. It will be available on the pending $11.99 priced Paramount+ Premium tier.

“You’ll have to buy the more expensive version [of Paramount+] to get Showtime,” Bakish said.

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The CEO noted Paramount+ is not among the SVOD price leaders, which he said include around $20 monthly for Netflix’s top tier and $15.99 for HBO Max.

“So, we are very comfortable raising prices on Paramount+,” Bakish said.

Paramount ended 2022 with 77 million paid subscribers across Paramount+, Showtime OTT, Noggin and BET+, among others. Company guidance is an estimated 100 direct-to-consumer million subscribers in 2024, a tally Bakish said could be impacted following the integration and price hikes.

In a surprise, Bakish admitted the company received an unsolicited $3 billion offer for Showtime, a bid the CEO said senior management wasn’t considering. The Wall Street Journal reported that former Showtime executive David Nevins made the offer backed by private equity firm General Atlantic.

“The reality is that [the offer] was not that interesting to us,” Bakish said, adding that management’s internal “value plan” projections for Showtime are for more valuable.

“It just didn’t make sense to divest the asset anywhere near that price,” Bakish said. “We think there’s enormous value to unlock with the integration of Showtime and Paramount+.”

CEO Bob Bakish: ‘Q4 the Biggest Period in Paramount+ History’

Paramount+ set subscriber growth, usage and revenue records in November, according to Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish. Speaking Dec. 6 at the UBS Global TMT Conference in New York City, the chief executive didn’t disclose actual numbers, saying only that the increases topped the previous record month by double digits.

“We now look at the fourth quarter as the biggest quarter in Paramount+ history,” Bakish said.

Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish

The subscription streaming video platform in 2022 has seen the largest percentage of subscriber growth within the domestic SVOD market. The service ended the most-recent fiscal period (ended Sept. 30) with 46 million subscribers, up from 25.5 million subs during the previous-year period after the rebranding of the CBS All Access SVOD platform to Paramount+ on March 4, 2021.

“Really happy with the momentum we’re seeing,” Bakish said.

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The executive attributed the data point increases to streaming access to high-profile movies (horror film Smile and upcoming Top Gun: Maverick) and the debut of “Tulsa King” starring Sylvester Stallone, among other content initiatives, as well as the partnership between Paramount+ and the Walmart+ e-commerce membership platform.

“We launched Paramount+ last week in France, and we’re launching in Austria and Germany on Thursday [Dec. 8],” Bakish said. “All of this is driving really strong performance.”

When asked about the status surrounding the melding of Paramount+ with the Showtime Anytime subscription streaming service, Bakish said the move has been accelerated with “more coming on that” in 2023 — which includes a likely subscription price hike.

With the ad-free Paramount+ option priced at $9.99 monthly, and $4.99 with commercials, Bakish said the platforms are priced “nowhere near” the ceiling set by competing SVOD services.

“We will move prices up, no question about it,” he said. “We feel very comfortable with our ability to do that.”

Meanwhile, Bakish said it “makes no sense” operating the Showtime SVOD service as a standalone platform despite the brand’s legacy programming that includes “Billions” and the just-launched fictional docuseries “George and Tammy,” which showcases the troubled relationship between country music stars George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Bakish said the series is the highest-rated program ever on Showtime.

“It doesn’t make sense to have separate fully built-out streaming infrastructures for Showtime and Paramount+, so we’re going to bring that together,” Bakish said.

CEO Bob Bakish Nixes Showtime/Paramount+ Merger Scuttlebutt — For Now

Paramount is not planning to shutter its Showtime brand and meld the pay-TV channel and subscription streaming VOD service into the Paramount+ digital distribution platform.

Speaking Sept. 14 at the Goldman Sachs + Technology confab in San Francisco, Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish said the rumors circulating within media circles this week about such a merger reflected the business aims of the company, but the reality is that many distribution deals for Showtime average around three years and thus negate any possibility of distribution consolidation in the near term.

The Wall Street Journal this week reported that Paramount executives were discussing absorbing aspects of Showtime into Paramount+, including the network’s coveted “Billions” and “Yellowjackets” original series, in addition to Showtime’s edgier content.

Paramount recently simplified the bundle between Showtime and Paramount+ to a single app experience to make it easier for subscribers to stream content from both platforms.

“It shouldn’t surprise you that as we look at optionality in the future, and benefit from the learnings that will go forward over time, that we might want to have a conversation about [combining Showtime and Paramount+], and this is what it would look like,” Bakish said.

“If we weren’t having that [Showtime/Paramount+ combo] conversation, then you should fire all of us,” Bakish added. “I guarantee you our media will continue to evolve, and I guarantee we will continue to work with distributors and provide that [streaming value] value to them.”

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Separately, Bakish reiterated that 45 days would be the limit for any Paramount Pictures theatrical release to remain at the box office — with the exception of 2022 global theatrical blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, which continues to sell tickets while being available for sale in the home on transactional VOD — and streaming on Paramount+ in the fourth quarter.

“Everywhere that movie shows up, it crushes it,” Bakish said. “In general, at 45 days, you’ve got your money out of theatrical [with the exception of Maverick], and now you can roll into streaming. You benefit from all the theatrical marketing, and the content is viewed as a ‘real’ movie by consumers, and it’s still fresh.”

The CEO said the opening the 2022-23 NFL season has been a success with ratings for the opening weekend games on CBS up 40%. Simulcasts on Paramount+ were the highest ever for the streaming platform.

“Sports really works for us, and it’s not just the NFL,” Bakish said, alluding to Paramount’s big investment in UEFA Champions League soccer streaming distribution over the next six years.

CEO Bob Bakish: IPL Cricket Key to Paramount+ Indian Launch in 2023

When Viacom18 — which is 49% owned by Paramount Global — earlier this year paid 205 billion rupees ($2.6 billion) for the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League (IPL) covering 410 cricket matches over a five-year period, the move was seen as a potential blow to Disney+ — and a win for Paramount+.

Speaking Aug. 4 on the fiscal call, Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount Global, reiterated why the media giant and The Walt Disney Co. spent a combined $5.6 billion on rights to a sport most Americans have never heard of.

“Cricket is at the top of the food chain in India,” Bakish said.

Indeed, since the launch of Disney+ in late 2019, the IPL has played a key role in the SVOD’s burgeoning subscriber growth. Disney acquired the cricket rights through its acquisition of 20th Century Fox Studios from Fox Corp. The studio’s Hotstar streaming platform currently holds the IPL rights. Disney retains the linear rights.

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How that plays out for Disney+ is the $64,000 question. Currently Hotstar with the IPL represents more than 50 million Disney+ subscribers, or almost 37% of the SVOD’s subscriber base. Without the IPL, that percentage is likely to plummet and shrinking the Disney+ global subscriber base significantly.

Bakish said Paramount+ plans to offer cricket as part of a “hard bundle” tiered pricing plan, benefiting from the association while not directly investing financially as a distributor.

“It will be a real engine for streaming,” Bakish said. “And Paramount+ will benefit by being part of that … because we get the very material benefit of cricket.”

CEO: All Five 2022 Paramount Theatrical Releases Topped Weekend Box Office, Heading to Paramount+

Paramount Pictures is on a roll. The studio has dominated the 2022 theatrical season, with all five of its big screen releases topping the weekend box office in their debuts.

Led by Top Gun: Maverick, which opened with $126.7 million in revenue across North America, Paramount saw Scream, Jackass Forever, The Lost City and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 all finish No. 1 at theaters. The last four titles all began streaming on Paramount+ 45 days after their theatrical debut — a strategy Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish says helps lure moviegoers to the cineplex while also driving SVOD subscriptions.

“Franchise, franchise, we really love them” Bakish said June 14 at the virtual Credit Suisse 24th Annual Communications Conference. “Our position as a diversified business fundamentally improves the economics of streaming.”

Bakish said the growth in box office and streaming has been accomplished by a strong content portfolio, with spending across the company reaching $15 billion. He said some content investments is performing “double duty” across multiple platforms.

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Paramount Pictures created the Netflix original movie Senior Year, which topped the streamer’s weekly English-language chart in its debut. The Lost City is currently the top-streaming movie on Paramount+, while the crime TV series “NCIS” and “FBI,” among others, are also popular on the SVOD platform, according to Bakish.

“That drives advanced return-on-investment (ROI) for us,” said the executive. “We see tremendous benefits from that. We’re excited about our streaming business and as an extraordinary valuation creation opportunity for Paramount.”

Upcoming movie releases include Jerry & Marge Go Large and Secret Headquarters on Paramount+ on June 17 and Aug. 5, respectively. Babylon hits the big screen on Dec. 25.

Paramount CEO Bakish Eyeing 3 Million DTC Sub Loss in Q2 Due to Russia/Ukraine Conflict

The ongoing military conflict between Russia and neighboring Ukraine is expected to cost Paramount Global upwards of 3 million direct-to-consumer subscribers in the current second quarter, ending June 30.

Speaking on the May 3 fiscal call, CEO Bob Bakish said the sub losses are due to the company’s decision to withdraw all business operations from Russia in response to the government’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine — a conflict that has resulted in the destruction of Ukraine cities, deaths of thousands of soldiers on both sides, in addition to thousands of innocent Ukraine civilians.

Bob Bakish

Bakish said the decision to suspend business in Russia would negatively affect full-year pre-tax earnings by $70 million to $80 million, the largest component of which will fall to the TV Media segment.

The executive said Paramount is in the process of reviewing existing streaming bundle relationships in Russia. And starting in the current quarter, Bakish said he expects Russian subscribers will be removed from reported D2C subscribers.

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“This change will reduce Q2 D2C subscriber growth by approximately 3 million subs, roughly two-thirds of which are subscribers to a non- Paramount+ service specific to the Russian market,” Bakish said.

Except for the removal of subscribers to streaming services in Russia, Bakish said Paramount Global’s full-year D2C sub growth expectations are unchanged.

“Given the nature of the affected services, the financial contribution is immaterial,” Bakish said.

With Paramount+ not available in Russia, the sub loss won’t affect the SVOD, unlike Netflix, which is projecting a two-million sub loss in the current quarter, much of it due to the Ukraine conflcit.

Paramount Global Latest Entertainment Giant to Pull Out of Russia Over Ukraine Invasion

Paramount Global March 15 became the latest Hollywood business to cease all operations in Russia due to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Ukraine. CEO Bob Bakish reportedly disclosed the move in a company memo. The erstwhile ViacomCBS has also donated $1 million in humanitarian aid to those affected by the war.

Bob Bakish

In the memo, Bakish wrote that Paramount is “taking a series of steps to suspend our operations in Russia, including pausing the supply of Paramount Global content. We have announced that Paramount Pictures will pause the theatrical release of our upcoming films in Russia, including The Lost City and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Simon & Schuster has suspended sales to accounts in Russia, along with the licensing of translation rights to Russian publishers.

“Additionally, Paramount Consumer Products will pause all new licensing deals in Russia. Other activity, including the distribution of linear channels and some content licensing, will take more time to pause due to existing contractual, technical and partner complexities.”

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Bakish also wrote that in addition to the corporate donation, “employees are encouraged to directly help those in need as this humanitarian crisis unfolds. Eligible employees in the U.K. and the U.S. can take advantage of the Paramount Matching Program, which we are working to expand to additional international regions (more information will follow shortly).

In addition, we are using our content and capabilities to help those in need, including the power of our global platforms to ensure the world bears witness to this tragedy, as well as to support humanitarian relief efforts. The courageous news teams at CBS News, Channel 5, Chilevision, Network 10, and Telefe have been reporting around the clock from on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Channel 5 recently aired a fundraising special, Ukraine: How YOU Can Help, in the U.K. MTVE has initiated a global call to action across linear and social for audiences to donate funds to support relief efforts across several organizations, including World Central Kitchen, International Medical Corps, Save The Children, UN Refugee, UNICEF and more. Our Consumer Products team is donating toys, products, and funds to organizations that are supporting kids and families from Ukraine who are seeking refuge. And, our team is working to quickly bring Ukrainian-language kids’ content to European countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and France for free on Pluto TV, and to Poland through local Nickelodeon distribution partners. And there’s more underway and to come.”