ViacomCBS Ups Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan to Head Global Streaming; Marc DeBevoise Stepping Down

In a major management shakeup underscoring the importance of streaming video to its future, ViacomCBS Oct. 20 disclosed new leadership structure for its global free (ad-supported) and pay streaming services. Tom Ryan, currently CEO of Pluto TV, will assume the role of president/CEO of ViacomCBS Streaming, a new unit overseeing CBS All Access, which will relaunch as Paramount+ in early 2021, and Pluto TV.

The promotion means that Marc DeBevoise, chief digital officer, ViacomCBS, and president/CEO, ViacomCBS Digital, will step down and serve in an advisory capacity for the remainder of 2020. DeBevoise, who previously served as president/COO of CBS Interactive since 2016, was instrumental in the launch of CBS All Access, including original series “Star Trek: Disco,” among others.

Tom Ryan

Ryan, who helped launch ad-supported VOD platform Pluto TV in 2014, will be tasked with overseeing the transformation of CBS All Access into Paramount+, working closely with the team on programming strategy, platform development and marketing for the enhanced streaming service. Ryan will partner with the ViacomCBS Content Council to accelerate a franchise-driven content strategy across the company’s streaming ecosystem, formalizing the role of ViacomCBS’s studios as multiplatform content providers. This will maximize the deployment of both IP and talent relationships across ViacomCBS’s streaming and other platforms.

Kelly Day, COO, ViacomCBS Networks International, will take on an expanded role as president of streaming, VCNI, overseeing all ex-U.S. digital and streaming platforms in addition to her COO responsibilities. She will work with Ryan and David Lynn, president/ CEO of VCNI, on ViacomCBS’s international streaming expansion, including the debut of Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America and the Nordics in 2021, as well as the ongoing international rollout of Pluto TV.

Kelly Day

As a result, Pierluigi Gazzolo will step down from his position as president, streaming and studios, VCNI, to pursue other interests.

“As we plan for the launch of Paramount+, bringing together the leaders of our streaming platforms to create a unified global organization will enable us to execute a holistic strategy across both free and pay,” Bob Bakish, president/CEO, ViacomCBS, said in a statement. Bakish called Ryan a “pioneering streaming executive” who has demonstrated “extraordinary talent” in creating a differentiated, consumer-centric streaming video service.

Bakish credited DeBevoise and Gazzolo for their contributions to ViacomCBS’ success — adding the two had helped set the course for the company’s digital businesses and laid a strong foundation for its next phase of streaming strategy.

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As CEO of Pluto TV, Ryan helped the service reach 33 million monthly active users globally. He guided the service through its $330 million acquisition by Viacom in January 2019. Earlier in his career, Ryan served as CEO of Threadless, an online art community and e-commerce company, from 2008 to 2012. Previously he was SVP of Digital Strategy and Business Development at EMI Music and was part of the early team at Virgin Mobile USA. He also co-founded Cductive, a pioneering online music service that merged with eMusic in 1999.

Day has served as COO of VCNI since March 2020. Prior to that, she served as president of Viacom Digital Studios (VDS) since November 2017, overseeing Viacom’s digital strategy, including the expansion of Viacom’s original programming across its online video and social media platforms. She previously served as the chief business officer and chief digital officer of multi-platform media company Awesomeness, where she was responsible for international expansion, global distribution strategies and revenue across television, mobile and OTT providers, also driving the company’s product and technology investments.

 

‘Hocus Pocus’ Remains Country’s Top-Selling Disc for Second Week

Disney’s perennial Halloween best-seller Hocus Pocus spent a second-consecutive week atop the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended Oct. 10.

The 1993 film about three Salem witches transported to modern times frequently finishes in the top five during October.

Coming in at No. 2 on the overall disc sales chart, and No. 5 on the Blu-ray Disc chart, was Warner’s Beetlejuice. The creepy 1988 comedy from director Tim Burton is another catalog title getting a boost from the Halloween season. Likewise, Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas held onto the No. 4 spot, and jumped to No. 8 on the Blu-ray chart. And Warner’s It: Chapter One rose a spot to No. 5 on the overall disc chart.

The week’s top new release, at No. 3 overall and No. 2 on the Blu-ray chart, was Paramount’s Star Trek: Picard — Season One. The sci-fi series, a sequel to “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was initially released on the CBS All Access streaming service in January before making its way to disc Oct. 6.

Another newcomer, RLJE Films’ The Tax Collector, debuted at No. 6 overall and No. 4 on the Blu-ray chart. The latest film from director David Ayer is a gritty drama about a pair of street thugs who collect protection money getting caught in the middle of a turf war.

Coming in at No. 4 on the Blu-ray chart (and No. 12 overall) was the newly released anime movie Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna from Shout! Factory.

Universal’s remake of The Secret Garden debuted at No. 7 on both charts.

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Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 56% of first-week Picard disc sales, compared with 52% for Tax Collector, 49% for Secret Garden, and 95% for Digimon.

A Best Buy-exclusive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of Tax Collector accounted for 11% of the title’s total sales. The special 4K edition will be widely available Dec. 15.

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On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Oct. 11, the Redbox-exclusive Ava remained No. 1 for a second week. Tax Collector debuted at No. 2, pushing Lionsgate’s The Silencing to No. 3.

Debuting as the No. 4 rental was Universal’s The 2nd, an actioner about an agent protecting the daughter of a Supreme Court justice from kidnappers.

Lionsgate’s The Secret: Dare to Dream dropped to No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 10-10-20
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 10-11-20
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 10-10-20
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 10-10-20
Sales Report for Week Ended 10-10-20
Digital Sales Snapshot for Week Ended 10-12-20

Amazon Prime Video to Stream Its First NFL Postseason Game

Amazon Prime Video has reportedly acquired streaming rights to the National Football League’s second-day wildcard round on Jan. 10, 2021. The post-season game is a first for Prime Video — and not exclusive. The Prime streaming video service will share the NFC/AFC matchups with CBS broadcast network (and CBS All Access) and Nickelodeon.

Amazon earlier this year renewed its rights to stream 11 NFL Thursday Night Football games for a reported $75 million. Amazon began live-streaming TNF games in 2017 on Prime Video and Twitch, hosted by the first all-female announcing team featuring Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer.

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The wildcard round rights cost Amazon significantly more than TNF, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the deal, citing league sources. NBCUniversal’s Peacock SVOD platform will live-stream a second wildcard playoff game.

Google-owned YouTube TV last year became the first digital platform to live-stream Major League Baseball post-season and World Series games. YouTube also acquired rights to live-stream 13 regular season games free (with ads) for viewers to watch in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. MLB has been streaming games on its MLB.tv platform since 2002, beginning first with audio only.

Despite some off-field controversies, the NFL remains a ratings winner, snagging 18 of the Top 20 most-watched telecasts since Sept. 10. The other two top-ranked programs: the presidential and vice presidential debates.

 

Star Trek: Picard — Season One

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/6/20;
Paramount/CBS;
Sci-Fi;
$39.99 DVD, $47.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated;
Stars Patrick Stewart, Alison Pill, Isa Briones, Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Harry Treadway, Peyton List, Tamlyn Tomita, Jonathan Del Arco, Jeri Ryan, Brent Spiner.

Fans of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” eagerly anticipated this sequel series featuring Patrick Stewart’s return to the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard nearly two decades after the last time we saw him in action.

That would have been the disappointing 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis, which ended with the android Data (Brent Spiner) sacrificing himself to save Picard from a deadly superweapon.

The new series picks up 20 years later, in the year 2399, with Picard settling into retirement at age 94 running his family’s winery in France. However, he remains haunted by Data’s death, as well as the Federation’s abandonment of a mission to ferry Romulan refugees to safety when their planet’s home star exploded 10 years prior (an event alluded to in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie).

His ennui is interrupted by a request for help from a young girl (Isa Briones) who turns out to be an android made of flesh and blood, fashioned by remnants of Data’s old programming. She’s being hunted by Romulan agents who consider her the portent of an invasion of artificial life forms that will lead to a galactic apocalypse.

For answers, Picard must find the girl’s twin sister, who happens to be working with a task force studying a ship abandoned by the Federation’s deadly enemy, the Borg, in Romulan space. So he assembles a crew of mercenaries to take him there.

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The creators of the show stress that this is very much not a retread of “TNG.” But that doesn’t rule out the occasional reunion here and there. The best episode of the first season’s batch of 10, for instance, involves Picard seeking temporary sanctuary with his old crewmates Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis), who now live on a distant planet with their daughter (Lulu Wilson).

In fact, the show is filled with references to the “TNG” era of “Star Trek” in the 1990s, and the Borg subplot provides a nice excuse to bring in Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the former Borg from “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Less fortunate are characters who were just guest stars on previous “Trek” shows, as this new series has a nasty habit of having them gruesomely murdered to move the story along.

In addition to the gore, longtime fans might also be surprised by the frequent use of foul language, with Starfleet admirals dropping “F” bombs to a degree never seen on a “Star Trek” show. Remember when “Star Trek” was a family show?

The A.I. storyline ends up going off the rails by the end of the season, which turns out to be a convoluted excuse for eliminating a hanging plot point from “TNG” that didn’t even need to be addressed.

The kinds of fans that “Star Trek” usually attracts will likely fine the show ends up inadvertently raising two questions for every one it thinks it’s answering. The nostalgia is fun for a while, but a few clever references will hardly compensate for other aspects of the franchise the show glaringly ignores. (For specific deviations from established Trek lore, check out the Major Grin YouTube channel.)

The show isn’t covering much new ground in its treatment of androids and A.I., as many of the ideas relating to the nature of artificial existence were previously and better explored in Blade Runner and “Battlestar Galactica.”

In fact, given how the season ends, it almost feels as if the producers were trying to set up a “Star Trek” version of “Firefly.”

Still, the cast is great, and the season manages to squeeze some poignant moments from the legacy characters that fans won’t want to miss.

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The Blu-ray edition of the series offers a nice suite of extras to differentiate it from its streaming presentation on CBS All Access.

Every episode includes a brief behind-the-scenes featurette that runs three to seven minutes. A few episodes also include deleted scenes, though most of these are pretty inconsequential.

The first of three discs includes the “Children of Mars” short that serves as something of a prologue to the series. The disc also includes a 10-minute “Make It So” featurette about the creation of the show.

In addition, the first episode includes a quarantine-recorded picture-in-picture Zoom commentary with producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer and Hanelle M. Culpepper (who also directed the episode).

The third disc includes more making-of featurettes, including the 12-and-a-half-minute “Aliens Alive: The xBs,” about putting the actors into Borg makeup, with a particular focus on Jeri Ryan’s return to her famous role.

“Picard Props” is a 13-minute featurette about the creation of various knick-knacks and weapons used on the show.

“Set Me Up” is a 14-and-a-half-minute featurette about the production design of some of the starship interiors and Picard’s home, showing off a lot of great details.

“The Motley Crew” is a 19-minute featurette about the cast, including some of Briones’ audition footage.

Finally, there’s an eight-minute gag reel, which is pretty great if only for the amount of playful bickering we get to see between longtime friends Stewart and Frakes, who directed a number of the episodes.

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 Rebranding as ‘Paramount+’ in 2021

ViacomCBS Sept. 15 announced that its pending global streaming video platform will be called “Paramount+” and take over CBS All Access in early 2021 as part of the service’s expansion to feature content from ViacomCBS’s portfolio of broadcast, news, sports and entertainment brands. ViacomCBS will also bring Paramount+ to international markets with an initial debut in AustraliaLatin America and the Nordics in 2021.

“Paramount is an iconic and storied brand beloved by consumers all over the world, and it is synonymous with quality, integrity and world-class storytelling,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said in a statement. “With Paramount+, we’re excited to establish one global streaming brand in the broad-pay segment that will draw on the sheer breadth and depth of the ViacomCBS portfolio to offer an extraordinary collection of content for everyone to enjoy.”

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Upon launch, Paramount+ will feature several original series, including “The Offer,” a scripted limited event series from Paramount Television Studios, based on Oscar-winning producer Al Ruddy’s never-revealed experiences of making The Godfather. The 10-episode event series is written and executive produced by Michael Tolkin (“Escape at Dannemora” and “The Player”). Ruddy will also serve as executive producer, and Emmy-winning producer Leslie Greif (“Hatfields & McCoys”) will executive produce and be a writer on the series.

“Lioness” is a spy drama created by Taylor Sheridan (“Yellowstone”) with Sheridan, Jill WagnerDavid GlasserDavid Hutkin, and Bob Yari set to executive produce. Based on a real-life CIA program, the series follows a young Marine recruited to befriend the daughter of a terrorist to bring the organization down from within. The series is produced by Paramount Network and 101 Studios.

The platform will also offer a reimagination of the Emmy-nominated series “Behind the Music,” titled “MTV’s Behind the Music — The Top 40,” which will look at the 40 biggest artists of all time, through their voices and their eyes. The series will be produced by Creature Films and MTV Studios.

“The Real Criminal Minds” is a true crime docuseries based on the long-running CBS television series “Criminal Minds,” and produced by XG Productions in association with CBS Television Studios and ABC Signature.

The service is also developing a revival of “The Game,” as part of BET’s programming on Paramount+ from CBS Television Studios and Grammnet Productions.

The new series join the Paramount’s previously announced plans for “Kamp Koral,” an original children’s series from Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” franchise, and the service’s role as the exclusive SVOD home to The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run in early 2021. Additional new original content will be announced ahead of launch.

This programming will join CBS All Access’ existing offering of more than 20,000 episodes and movies from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and more, as well as exclusive original series including “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Tooning Out The News,” “No Activity,” “Why Women Kill,” “Interrogation,” “The Thomas John Experience” and “Tell Me a Story,” as well as upcoming series “The Stand,”” The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “The Harper House,” and “Guilty Party.” The service is also the exclusive domestic home to “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Star Trek: Picard,” the animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” and the upcoming U.S.S. Enterprise-set series “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

Since the transformation of CBS All Access began in late July, the service has experienced significant growth and engagement. With the addition of a mix of content, including UEFA soccer, “Big Brother Live Feeds,” “Star Trek: Lower Decks” and more than 3,500 episodes from across ViacomCBS brands, the service broke a record for total monthly streams in August and experienced one of its best months ever in terms of new subscriber sign-ups. In addition, the average age of new subscribers in August was measurably younger than the service’s overall average subscriber age, due in large part to the addition of UEFA and the newly added content from various ViacomCBS brands.

Leading up to the early 2021 rebrand to Paramount+, CBS All Access will expand its content offering to more than 30,000 episodes and movies and continue to develop additional original series across brands including BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and more, transforming it into a diversified super service for the ViacomCBS portfolio.

“The response from consumers in just the early weeks of the service’s expansion already illustrates the tremendous opportunity ahead of us in bringing these phenomenal ViacomCBS brands together in one premium streaming home under the new Paramount+ name,” said chief digital officer Marc DeBevoise. “With the addition of even more content from across the portfolio as well as the new exclusive originals we are announcing today, we look forward to the early 2021 rebrand and bringing existing and new subscribers more of the compelling, genre-spanning live sports, breaking news and mountain of entertainment ViacomCBS has to offer.”

Interpret: Apple TV+ $9.99 Bundle With Showtime and CBS All Access Could Boost Growth

Apple’s bundling of Apple TV+ with CBS All Access and Showtime for just $9.99 per month, announced in August, could be a savvy move, according to research firm Interpret.

Apple TV+ alone is $4.99 a month.

Interpret’s New Media Measure shows that Apple TV+ has room for growth with the bundle method. Among current Apple TV+ subscribers, only 7% subscribe to Showtime streaming and 13% subscribe to CBS All Access.

“Both CBS All Access and Showtime were already available in the Apple TV channels lineup, but considering that Showtime costs subscribers $10.99 monthly and CBS All Access subscriptions go for $5.99, Apple is banking on the bundle approach as too irresistible for content-hungry fans — not unlike Disney+ offering a bundle with ESPN+ and Hulu,” according to Interpret.

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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.”

NPD: Online Video Consumption, Engagement Leapt in Q2

Free, transactional and subscription video all grew significantly in the second quarter versus the same period in 2019, according to NPD Group data.

The market experienced “growth across just about every way you can consume video,” said NPD’s John Buffone during the online OTT.X summit Sept. 1. (The summit continues today; to register click here.)

Transactional VOD alone jumped by 57%, while subscription VOD grew 42%, Buffone reported.

Sales of TVs and streaming players (“largely driven by Roku”) also grew by double digits during stay-at-home orders, he said, while sales of DVD and Blu-ray players also saw a jump in sales “for a while.”

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The most frequently used services in April 2020 (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video) are gaining the most ground, NPD research found. Among that group, 87% of Netflix subs said they use the service at least weekly, with 80% saying the same of Hulu, 70% of Disney+, 68% of CBS All Access and 64% of Amazon Prime. During April, 48% of Netflix subscribers said they were using it more often, compared to 57% of Disney+ subs, 42% of Hulu subs, 40% of CBS All Access subs and 39% of Amazon Prime subs.

A third of SVOD users said that exclusive content made them subscribe or watch more because content was not available any other way, he noted.

‘The Stand’ to Premiere on CBS All Access Dec. 17

The limited series The Stand will premiere Dec. 17 on ViacomCBS’s SVOD and live streaming service CBS All Access.

The nine-episode series will drop weekly on Thursdays exclusively for CBS All Access subscribers.

The Stand is Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil. The fate of mankind rests on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) and a handful of survivors. Their worst nightmares are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), the Dark Man.

Based on King’s best-selling novel of the same name, the series will close with a new coda written by the author himself.

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“During the two years we spent making The Stand, we all felt the responsibility of adapting what may be the most beloved work of one of the world’s most beloved storytellers, but none of us could have imagined that Stephen King’s 40-year-old masterpiece about a global pandemic would come to be so eerily relevant,” said Benjamin Cavell, showrunner and executive producer, in a statement. “We’re honored to tell this sprawling, epic story, including a new coda that Stephen King has wanted to add for decades. We’re so proud of this show and its attempt to find meaning and hope in the most uncertain of times. We can’t wait to share it with the world.”

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In addition to Goldberg and Skarsgård, the series stars James Marsden as Stu Redman, Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith, Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood, Amber Heard as Nadine Cross, Owen Teague as Harold Lauder, Henry Zaga as Nick Andros, Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen, Irene Bedard as Ray Bretner, Nat Wolff as Lloyd Henreid, Eion Bailey as Weizak, Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor, Katherine McNamara as Julie Lawry, Fiona Dourif as Ratwoman, Natalie Martinez as Dayna Jurgens, Hamish Linklater as Dr. Jim Ellis, Daniel Sunjata as Cobb and Greg Kinnear as Glen Bateman.