Virus Reckoning: Four Studios to Report Fiscal Earnings This Week

NEWS ANALYSIS — Bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic on its business operations, major studios Disney, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and Sony Pictures face the fiscal music this week, reporting quarterly results, beginning with Sony before the market opens Aug. 4.

Most attention will be directed at Disney, which reports results after the market closes Aug. 4. With nearly every aspect of its business under siege during the pandemic, expect CEO Bob Chapek to focus on the positive: Disney+, which launched service in Asia (i.e. Japan) during the reporting third quarter, undoubtedly adding to the 54.5 million subscribers the platform reported at the beginning of May.

It’s an Ace card Chapek can use to counter Netflix’s July fiscal gem, generating almost 11 million new subscribers globally to surpass 190 million.

Disney moved intended theatrical release Artemis Fowl to its subscription streaming video platform during the quarter, while Pixar’s Onward joined the service after movie theaters shut down due to the pandemic.

Disney studio, pay-TV (ESPN) and theme park business segments will have little positive to report except maybe reduced operating costs — underscoring the company’s tens of thousands of furloughed workers. Disney re-opened parks in Paris, Florida, Shanghai and Hong Kong and then closed Hong Kong again temporarily following spikes in COVID-19 infections.

But Disney did score a coup of sorts when it contracted with the NBA to host the league’s pandemic-shortened season, including hosting players, coaches and staff at its facilities in Orlando, Fla.

“Many of Disney’s operations require bringing people together in large groups,” The Motley Fool’s Parkev Tatevosian wrote in a note. “The company won’t get back to running on all cylinders until there is a vaccine or treatment breakthrough for the coronavirus.”

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ViacomCBS has busied itself expanding the portfolio and distribution reach for ad-supported VOD service Pluto TV, in addition to online-based Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) to consumers spending increasingly more time with over-the-top video.

The company inked a deal with NBCUniversal’s upstart Peacock streaming service for NBCUniversal’s Peacock for library movie and TV show content, including  The Godfather Trilogy, “Ray Donovan,” “Undercover Boss,” and “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” among others.

“We believe COVID-19 is a catalyst for ViacomCBS to push through … significant hidden value in Paramount’s library and in ViacomCBS streaming services,” Laura Martin, analyst with Needham & Co., wrote in a July 31 note. “Film and TV libraries are becoming more valuable over time. With 140,000 TV episodes plus 3,600 films in the ViacomCBS library, this suggests valuable optionality to maximize economics through either developing or licensing its intellectual property to others.”

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With its theatrical business sidelined, Sony Pictures Entertainment in May announced an expansion of its “Imax Enhanced” releases, including catalog titles, as well as theatrical releases for home entertainment across the Europe, North America and Asia Pacific regions.

Imax markets a branded in-home “Imax private theatre” package that offers consumers the required technology, screen and audio to screen Blu-ray releases, including 4K UHD, in the home.

“SPE’s investment in the Imax Enhanced program ensures that we will continue to deliver even more of our films to audiences who now expect to experience movies at the highest technical quality — even in their own homes,” Pete Wood, SVP of new digital distribution at Sony Pictures, said in May.

In its previous fiscal result, Lionsgate attributed a $50 million loss due to COVID-19. The home entertainment distributor added more than 10 million Starz SVOD subscribers. Look for Lionsgate to up focus on home entertainment, which generated record $600 million in catalog revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31.

The distributor sold about $257 million in packaged-media product, down about $500,000 from 2019. Disc sales of major feature movies increased nearly 43% to $154.8 million from $108.4 million in the previous-year period.

Pluto TV Adds AMC Network Channels

Viacom’s AVOD service Pluto TV May 1 launched a suite of original AMC Networks channels, including Stories by AMC, Slightly Off by IFC, All Reality WE tv and The Walking Dead en Español.

The launch of these dedicated channels will give Pluto TV customers access to such AMC Networks content as “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Halt and Catch Fire” and “Into the Badlands; IFC’s “Portlandia,” “Documentary Now! and “Brockmire; and WE tv’s “Kendra on Top and “Mary Mary.”

Select programming will also be available on demand as part of Pluto TV’s platform.

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“We are excited to partner with Pluto TV to bring AMC Networks’ acclaimed originals to our fans in new ways, as viewers continue to seek greater flexibility and choice,” said Joshua Reader, president of distribution and development for AMC Networks, in a statement. “Free ad-supported streaming is an emerging category that gives us the ability to complement the content offerings of our linear networks and other new platforms in ways that serve viewers and advertising partners — all part of our strategy to make our content available to as many people as possible in a rapidly evolving media environment. As always, compelling, distinctive and premium content is at the heart of our appeal and that of these new AMCN-Pluto channels.”

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“As we continue to see incredible growth and adoption of Pluto TV worldwide, we are thrilled to join forces with an esteemed and award-winning partner like AMC Networks,” said Amy Kuessner, SVP of content strategy and global partnerships, in a statement. “Pluto TV is the exclusive launch partner of these new channels from AMC Networks, that offer the perfect escape for viewers in search of the very best television programming that’s easy to access and free to stream.”

Stories By AMC will include past seasons of “The Walking Dead” and full series of “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Hap and Leonard” and “Into the Badlands,” as well as select seasons of “Ride with Norman Reedus,” “Making of the Mob” and police drama “Low Winter Sun.” More series joining the channel in the upcoming months include “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Preacher,” “TURN: Washington’s Spies” and “Comic Book Men.”

Slightly Off By IFC includes “Documentary Now!,” “Portlandia,”  “Sherman’s Showcase,” “Brockmire” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” More IFC series joining the channel in the coming months include “Baroness Von Sketch Show” and “Stan Against Evil.”

All Reality WE tv series include “Kendra on Top,” “L.A. Hair,” “Mary Mary,” “John Edward Cross Country,” “My Fair Wedding,” “Hustle & Soul” and “Tamar & Vince.” Additional WE tv series joining the channel in the coming months include “Bridezillas,” “Million Dollar Matchmaker,” “Cutting It in the ATL” and “Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual.”

The Walking Dead en Español channel offers “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead” in Spanish.

Pluto TV Adds to Leadership Team

Pluto TV, the AVOD service owned by Viacom, has appointed Shampa Banerjee chief product officer and Scott Reich SVP of programming.

Banerjee will oversee the product roadmap, designing and developing the experience of users, distribution partners, content partners and advertisers, and will report to CEO Tom Ryan.

Reich will oversee and execute the programming strategy behind Pluto TV’s slate of content.

Shampa Banerjee

With more than 22 million monthly active viewers, Pluto TV includes 250-plus live and original channels and thousands of on-demand movies and television series in partnership with major TV networks, movie studios, publishers and digital media companies.

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Banerjee joins Pluto TV from Eros Digital at Eros International, the “Netflix for Bollywood,” where she grew the service from inception to 150 million global subscribers in 135 countries, according to the Pluto TV release. Prior to that, Banerjee worked for the social collaboration platform Socialtext. Banerjee also held positions as COO/VP engineering and product at Meevee (acquired by Live Universe), CTO at Ziff Davis Media, where she launched the first-ever social network for video gamers, and at AOL.

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“Shampa is a global product leader with deep experience in creating delightful experiences for consumers and rapid growth for the companies she helps lead,” said Ryan in a statement. “We are excited to welcome her to Pluto TV as we continue our mission to entertain the planet.”

Scott Reich

Reich was previously GM at Fullscreen Media, where he set the strategy for the company’s subscription service and managed all aspects of original scripted and unscripted original programming, content licensing, program planning, marketing, creative services, content operations and analytics. He was also previously VP, programming and original content at VEVO and held positions at FUSE, Concert.TV and VH1. He started his career at Magus Entertainment where he worked closely with the manager of the band Aerosmith.

“Scott’s diverse programming and management experience will be a great asset to Pluto TV,” said Ryan in a statement. “Pluto TV was created to solve the problem of what to watch. How, why and where we program our titles is what makes the Pluto experience one-of-a-kind, and it was important that we hired someone with experience in all aspects of content across all platforms.”

Pluto TV: CBS, Viacom Merger Puts AVOD ‘Light Years’ Ahead of Schedule

The re-merger of Viacom and former subsidiary CBS Corp. should help accelerate worldwide distribution of Pluto TV, according to the ad-supported video unit. Viacom acquired Pluto earlier this year for $340 million.

“Today, we are excited to celebrate the union of two major media powerhouses — Viacom and CBS. As a part of the newly established @ViacomCBS media empire, Pluto TV has now jumped light years ahead, accelerating our mission to entertain the planet.” Pluto TV (@PlutoTV) tweeted Dec. 5.

The union presents the combined companies with three branded over-the-top video services in CBS All Access, Showtime OTT and Pluto — the latter ad-supported.

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When CBS launched All Access ($5.99) and Showtime OTT ($10.99), it projected 16 million standalone subscribers by 2022. That tally was reached through the third quarter of the current fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.

Pluto TV in July claimed more than 18 million monthly viewers across more than 28 content channels.

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“As the video marketplace continues to segment, we see an opportunity to support the ecosystem in creating products at a broad range of price points, including free,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in the statement earlier this year.

Last month, Pluto began incorporating new channels from CBS Interactive, including ET Live and CBSN.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing more of our ad-supported streaming channels to the platform with today’s launch of our entertainment news channel, ET Live, and CBSN’s local news channels for New York and Los Angeles,” said Sarah Jeon, EVP of business development at CBS Interactive.

Pluto is also launching curated video channels for third-party clients and events. In September at the Advertising Week confab in New York, Pluto delivered a custom channel that targeted the event’s 100,000 attendees.

The Advertising Week pop-up channel showcased Pluto TV’s ability to create custom channels, a feature that’s appealing to advertisers and publishers seeking to reach fragmented and niche audiences.

The channel underscored the versatility of streaming TV, which Pluto CEO Tom Ryan claims can be programmed for optimal utility without the restrictions of traditional linear networks.

“In many ways, [Pluto] drew inspiration from the things cable TV had done right in terms of creating these interest-based channels that take the work out of entertainment for customers,” Ryan told a separate media confab.

 

Viacom, CBS Close Corporate Re-Merger

ViacomCBS Dec. 4 formally announced the completion of the merger between CBS Corp. and former corporate parent Viacom — the latter also owning Paramount Pictures, MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, Pluto TV and Comedy Central.

On Jan. 1, 2006, Viacom spun off subsidiary CBS into a freestanding television company led by CEO Les Moonves, who was forced out in 2018 following allegations by several women of inappropriate workplace behavior.

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“This is a historic moment that brings together two iconic companies to form one of the world’s most important content producers and providers,” CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement. “Through the combination of CBS’s and Viacom’s complementary assets, capabilities and talented teams, ViacomCBS will create and deliver premium content for its own platforms and for others, while providing innovative solutions for advertisers and distributors globally.”

Building on a collection of franchises and partnerships, ViacomCBS will be home to more than 140,000 premium TV episodes and 3,600 film titles, with global production capabilities and more than $13 billion in annual content investment.

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The company will account for 22% of TV viewership in the U.S. and hold the highest share of broadcast and cable viewing across key audience demographics, with strength in all categories, including News, Sports, General Entertainment, Pop Culture, Comedy, Music and Kids.

Through the strength and scale of these assets, ViacomCBS claims it will be well-equipped to maximize the value of its content for its own platforms and for others, as it meets the growing global demand for third-party premium content. The company’s content scale will support a robust streaming strategy, including ViacomCBS’s own suite of advertising and subscription-based offerings.

In addition, the company’s broad reach, extensive intellectual property portfolio and expertise in advanced marketing solutions will enable it to strengthen its partnerships with distributors and advertisers globally.

Pluto TV Launching 24-Hour ‘Awesomeness TV’ Channel in the U.K.

Viacom’s ad-supported video-on-demand service Pluto TV, is launching a 24-hour edition of Awesomeness TV in the United Kingdom on Dec. 6.

Pluto, which Viacom acquired earlier this year for $340 million, has become integral in Viacom’s global over-the-top video aspirations, currently offering 65 channels of content across multiple genres.

Awesomeness TV currently streams in the United States targeting Gen Z audience with reality-based programming such as “My Dream Quinceañera”  and competition-themed “DIY Dash,” among other shows.

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“The [SVOD] market has changed drastically, especially in the last two years,” Olivier Jollet, managing director of Pluto TV in Europe, told Variety.  “We’re seeing from the user point of view that the willingness to pay is not unlimited. People will take two, three or four services … but not 10.”

Pluto TV, with 150 content partners, features ad-supported movies: Pluto TV Movies 1 & 2and Drama, Comedy, Family, Indies, Romance, Documentaries, Thrillers, Cult Films, Horror 24/7, Action Movies, Flicks of Fury, The Asylum, and Black Cinema.

CBS, Viacom Merger to Close Dec. 4

CBS Corp. and Viacom have announced that their pending merger is expected to close after market hours on Dec. 4.

Immediately following the closing, the combined company will be renamed ViacomCBS Inc., and it is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market on Dec. 5 under the new ticker symbols “VIACA” and “VIAC,” according to the companies.

As part of the listing, ViacomCBS will also become eligible for future inclusion in the Nasdaq 100 index.

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Speaking last August with CNBC, Robert Bakish, current Viacom CEO and future head of ViacomCBS, said the combined media company would offer “unmatched scale” with 140,000 television catalog episodes and 3,600 movies, including content from Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios.

The broadcast network’s early move toward direct-to-consumer content distribution with CBS All Access and Showtime OTT and Viacom’s acquisition of ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV has well-positioned the new media company in the streaming video era, he said.

“[That’s] not something people have talked about a lot [regarding the merger],” he said.  “You unite those two together and you really have a D-to-C ecosystem — very compelling — both with substantial, millions of users.”

More ViacomCBS Execs Announced

CBS and Viacom Nov. 18 announced additional senior appointments to ViacomCBS corporate leadership, effective upon closing of the merger.

Alex Berkett, SVP, corporate development and strategy, Viacom, will become EVP, corporate development and strategy, leading ViacomCBS’ efforts to identify, pursue and execute strategic growth opportunities, including acquisitions, partnerships, investments and joint ventures, across all of ViacomCBS’ businesses and geographies.

Nancy Phillips will serve as EVP, chief people officer, and lead the ViacomCBS global human resources organization. Phillips joins the company from Nielsen, where she served as chief human resources officer.

Marva Smalls, EVP, global head of inclusion strategy, Viacom, will serve as EVP, global head of inclusion of ViacomCBS, driving initiatives and fostering partnerships that promote and advance diversity and inclusion for ViacomCBS enterprise-wide both with internal and external stakeholders globally. In addition, she will retain her public affairs responsibilities for Nickelodeon as EVP, public affairs, kids and family entertainment brands, ViacomCBS Media Networks.

Jose Tolosa, chief transformation officer of Viacom, will expand his responsibilities as EVP, chief transformation officer. In this role, he will continue to oversee integration efforts for the combined company, with a focus on accelerating the evolution of its businesses. Tolosa will also lead ViacomCBS strategic planning, helping to set the company’s strategic priorities and support cross-company projects for senior management. Additionally, he will oversee the Global Business Services and Global Sourcing divisions, which will expand their scope, providing enterprise-wide services and helping drive synergies.

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The leadership announcements follow the previously announced appointments of Christa D’Alimonte as EVP, general counsel and secretary; Anthony DiClemente as EVP, investor relations; DeDe Lea as EVP, global public policy and government relations; Julia Phelps as EVP, chief communications and corporate marketing officer, and Christina Spade as Executive Vice President, CFO.

“We now have in place the entire senior management team for ViacomCBS, ensuring we will hit the ground running when the transaction closes in just a few weeks,” stated Bob Bakish, Viacom president and CEO, who will serve as president and CEO of ViacomCBS upon closing. “Working together, these leaders will help us realize the full potential of our considerable assets and competitive strengths.”

The merger of Viacom and CBS remains subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close by early December.

Reports: Netflix Picks Up Rights to New ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ Sequel

Netflix has licensed rights to a new Beverly Hills Cop sequel from Paramount, according to reports.

The fourth installment in the series will star Eddie Murphy and be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the reports stated. The first three movies came out in 1984, 1987 and 1994, and all featured Murphy as a freewheeling Detroit cop.

Netflix this month also expanded its deal with another Viacom property, Nickelodeon. It’s a multiyear output deal to produce original animated feature films and television series for kids and families based both on the Nickelodeon library of characters as well as new IP.

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Paramount Ups Fiscal-Year 2019 Home Entertainment Revenue

It may be a subscription streaming video future, but sales of packaged and digital media remain strong for Paramount Home Entertainment.

The division generated $646 million in fiscal-2019 (ended Sept. 30) revenue, which was up almost 4% from revenue of $622 million during the previous-year period.

Domestic home entertainment revenue in the year surged 11% to $425 million, from $383 million the previous year. International sales dropped 8% to $221 million, from $240 million.

In the quarter, home entertainment revenue declined 3% to $153 million, from $158 million in the previous-year period. Domestic sales dropped 2% to $101 million, from $103 million. International sales dropped 4% to $52 million, compared with $54 million.

The top-selling Paramount title in the year was Bumblebee.

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Theatrical revenue plummeted 72% to $94 million, from $336 million the previous year. Domestic revenue fell 56% to $48 million, from $109 million. International sales dropped 80% to $46 million, compared with $230 million. The theatrical revenue declined reflected the comparison to Mission: Impossible — Fallout in the prior year.

Licensing revenue increased by 5% for the full year and 26% for the quarter, driven by growth in TV production. Ancillary revenue grew 33% for the full year, driven by higher licensing fees from international theme parks and a new music rights agreement

Paramount has delivered three straight years of year-over-year adjusted operating income improvement and achieved full year profitability for the first time in four years.

“It’s a testament to the strength of our strategy and content slate,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement.