Report: Lionsgate Considering Spinning Off Starz

Lionsgate is reportedly considering spinning off or selling its Starz subsidiary.

Lionsgate, which acquired Starz in 2016 for $4 billion, is looking to leverage the pay-TV and $8.99 monthly over-the-top video subsidiary in an era of burgeoning streaming video, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

Specifically, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio/distributor is following the corporate playbook Viacom pursued in 2004 when it spun off its controlling stake in Blockbuster Video for a $1.3 billion impairment charge.

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Lionsgate reported about $2.9 billion in debt at the end of the most-recent fiscal period. The company could offload the debt through a special-purpose acquisition vehicle — a public company created to acquire a specific asset.

Earlier this year, CBS reportedly offered $5 billion for Starz, which Lionsgate considered too low. Two years ago, Hasbro looked to acquire Starz but negotiations ended without a deal.

Lionsgate also has other reasons to consider offloading Starz. With pay-TV operators looking to rework carriage agreements with content holders, DirecTV reduced the amount it pays Lionsgate to carry Starz and Starz Encore.

Now Comcast is reportedly looking to drop Starz when its carriage deal expires at the end of the year. Loss of the nation’s No. 1 cable operator could result in Starz losing millions of subscribers, or more than $225 million in annual revenue.

 

Viacom Expands Distribution Deal with Virgin Media to Include Pluto TV

Viacom International Media Networks and Virgin Media Oct. 7 announced an expanded content distribution agreement for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In addition to live, on-demand and streaming rights to MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount Network, the new deal includes access to Pluto TV — the $340 million ad-supported VOD service Viacom acquired earlier this year.

The Pluto brands includes Pluto TV Drama, Pluto TV Romance and Pluto TV Crime, among 60 channels.

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“This renewed and broadened partnership with Virgin Media speaks to the strength of our brands and content, as well as our investment in new streaming apps, which will allow Virgin Media customers to access their favorite Viacom content in new ways,” Arran Tindall, SVP, commercial and content distribution, for Viacom International Media Networks, said in a statement.

The deal also includes first-time Virgin access to Viacom’s U.K. apps My5 (Channel 5, including content from A+E and PBS America)) and MTV Play.

The pact includes on-demand access to U.K. reality series “Geordie Shore,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Paw Patrol,” among others.

“This is great news for our customers who can continue to enjoy Viacom’s diverse range of channels and content,” David Bouchier, chief digital entertainment officer at Virgin Media, said. “The inclusion of three brand new apps will give our customers greater flexibility to watch their favorite shows at a time that suits them.”

 

Viacom Expands Pluto TV Access to Android Devices in Europe

Viacom has expanded access to its ad-supported streaming video service, Pluto TV, on Android devices in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Pluto TV will be available via its app on Google Play and connected televisions.

Acquired earlier this year for $340 million, Pluto TV represents Viacom’s most-ambitious attempt to expand brand awareness and exposure in the over-the-top video ecosystem worldwide.

Viacom brands include Paramount Pictures, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

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With Netflix and Amazon Prime Video dominating the SVOD market, Viacom contends free ad-supported streaming video represents a competitive alternative.

Pluto TV users in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have access to more than 30 thematically-curated channels, including Pluto TV Movies, KultKrimi and recently-launched Comedy Central Pluto TV and Comedy Central — Made in Germany.

Pluto TV in the U.K. features more than 60 channels, including Pluto TV Movies, Pluto TV Indies, Pluto TV Inside and Pluto TV Crime.

Pluto TV launched earlier this month on Apple TV and iOS, and is now available on all major mobile devices and TVs.

Olivier Jollet, managing director Europe, Pluto TV, said that as today’s media consumption diversifies, premium video content isn’t limited to the TV.

“With the launch on Android tablets and mobile devices, Pluto TV is available right in our users’ pocket … on the couch, on their daily commute or at their holiday destination.”

Viacom’s $9.99 BET+ Streaming Service Launches

Viacom Sept. 19 launched just its third branded domestic subscription streaming video service BET+, priced at $9.99 per month.

The SVOD service complements BET’s linear network, which launched in 1980 by Robert L. Johnson. Additional access points include BET.com and the BET Now app for TV Everywhere users.

In addition, BET’s recently launched channel on Pluto TV will continue to feature classic films and box office hits from the best of black Hollywood.

The service follows previous launches of preschool-based Noggin and Comedy Central Now. Viacom also owns and operates ad-supported Pluto TV.

Ironically, BET+ will compete directly against AMC Networks’ Urban Movie Channel (UMC), the SVOD created in 2018 for African American and urban audiences — by Robert L. Johnson’s RLJ Entertainment.

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BET+ is also available on the App Store for iPhone and iPad, Android devices, Android TV devices, Amazon Fire TV and Prime Video Channels.

Users can also subscribe directly through Apple TV channels and watch in the Apple TV app, on demand and ad-free, across their devices for online and offline viewing.

The joint venture by BET Networks and Tyler Perry Studios launches with more than 1,000 hours of ad-free premium content, including exclusive new original programming and a broad array of top African-American-focused dramas, sitcoms, films, and specials from BET and sister networks within the Viacom portfolio.

Additionally, BET+ will offer an exclusive collection of Tyler Perry films, television, and stage plays. The service will also provide a host of content from leading African American creators, including Tracy Oliver, Will Packer, along with fresh new voices, on both sides of the camera. New titles will be added to the service regularly.

Initial content includes all nine episodes of BET+ original series, “First Wives Club,from Girls Trip screenwriter Tracy Oliver, and starring Ryan Michelle Bathe, Michelle Buteau and Jill Scott.

New weekly original series,Bigger— a 10-episode comedic series from hitmaker Will Packer (“Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man.”) — gives fans a taste of what’s to come by making the first three episodes of the series available now.

The remaining episodes of will be released every week beginning Sept. 26. In addition to its new original content, BET+ is also now streaming the comedy series, Martin”.

In the coming months, BET+ will stream Tyler Perry’s theatrical films, including the Madeafranchise; new original series; and a selection of Perry’s stage plays —Meet the Browns,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Family That Preys,” and “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” among others.

BET+ will stream a lineup of African American TV, movie and musical content including BET’s library series, films, documentaries, and specials such as “The Bobby Brown Story,” “The New Edition Story,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” “The Quad,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration, ” “College Hill,” “Comic View,” “Hell Date,” “Keyshia Cole: All In,” “Nellyville” “Reed Between The Lines,” “Ali: People’s Champ,” “Katrina: 10 Years Later,” “Killer Curves,” “BET Awards,” “Hip Hop Awards,” “Soul Train Awards,” “Black Girls Rock,” “Boomerang,” “Harlem Nights,” “Coach Carter,” “Losing Isaiah,” and “Tina Turner Live In Holland,” among others.

Viacom library TV shows include VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta,” “Basketball Wives,” “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” Comedy Central’s “Why? With Hannibal Buress”, MTV’s “Todrick,” TV Land’s “Soul Man,” Nick @ Night’s “Instant Mom,” and more.

In the coming weeks, BET+ will feature stand-up comedy specials from D.L. Hughley, Eddie Griffin, Nick Cannon, Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live), Lil Rel (Get Out), Gina Yashere (The Daily Show), and Sinbad.

 

Pluto TV Expands to Apple Devices in Europe

Viacom-owned ad-supported VOD service Pluto TV is expanding to Apple devices in Europe.

The Pluto TV app, which includes access to more than 30 channels featuring movies, MTV, and TV sitcoms, is now available in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Viacom acquired San Francisco-based Pluto earlier this year for $340 million in cash.

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“Our goal is to entertain the planet and reach audiences where they are, be it at home on the TV screen or on the go on their mobile device”, Olivier Jollet, managing director Europe at Pluto TV, said in a statement. “Launching on Apple TV and Apple mobile devices in German speaking markets and the U.K. is the perfect way to do so, since we are now additionally providing our lean-back experience to millions of Apple users.”

Pluto TV earlier this year said it had surpassed 18 million monthly users.

CBS, Viacom Agree to $30 Billion Re-Merger

Thirteen years after Viacom spun off CBS as a wholly owned subsidiary, the two companies are re-merging under the same corporate umbrella.

The two entertainment companies Aug. 13 announced a definitive agreement to combine in an all-stock $30 billion merger, creating a combined company — ViacomCBS Inc. — with more than $28 billion in revenue.

CBS shareholders will own approximately 61% of the combined company and Viacom shareholders will own approximately 39%.

The combined company will be led by Bob Bakish, current CEO of Viacom, with Joe Ianniello, acting CEO at CBS, becoming president/CEO of CBS.

The two companies, whose assets include Paramount Pictures, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Showtime, CBS All Access, among others, expect to save $500 million in combined synergies — about half of what they originally sought.

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The pact was spearheaded by Shari Redstone, who runs National Amusements Inc., parent to both Viacom and CBS, for her ailing father, Sumner Redstone. NAI holds approximately 78.9% and 79.8% of the Class A voting shares of CBS and Viacom, respectively.

Shari Redstone has eyed the reunion as a means for Viacom and CBS better competing against a rapidly evolving media landscape, which includes subscription streaming video-on-demand.

“My father once said ‘content is king,’ and never has that been more true than today,” Redstone said in a statement. “Through CBS and Viacom’s shared passion for premium content and innovation, we will establish a world-class, multiplatform media organization that is well-positioned for growth in a rapidly transforming industry.”

ViacomCBS contends it would be better able to scale globally, with leadership positions in markets across the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia.

In addition to a significant television business in the U.S., the combined company possesses a portfolio of direct-to-consumer platforms, including both subscription (CBS All Access, Showtime OTT) and ad-supported (Pluto TV) offerings. It also includes Paramount Pictures and Paramount Home Entertainment.

“Today marks an important day for CBS and Viacom, as we unite our complementary assets and capabilities and become one of only a few companies with the breadth and depth of content and reach to shape the future of our industry,” Bakish said in a statement.

Ianniello said the merger brings a new set of opportunities to both companies.

“At CBS, we have outstanding momentum right now — creatively and operationally — and Viacom’s portfolio will help accelerate that progress,” Ianniello said.

In addition to Bakish and Ianniello, the company will include Christina Spade as EVP and Chief Financial Officer, and Christa D’Alimonte as EVP, General Counsel and Secretary.

The deal was originally delayed after former CBS boss Les Moonves sought the CEO position among the combined companies. Shari Redstone wanted Bakish.

Moonves dropped out of discussions when he was forced out at CBS following a series of #MeToo allegations.

Viacom, CBS Agree on Merger Price

The expected re-merger between Viacom and CBS has reportedly found common ground on the all-stock transaction’s price at around Viacom’s $12 billion market valuation.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the deal, says the merger, which would re-unite parent Viacom and CBS after 13 years, could be announced as early as today.

Specifically, Viacom would get 0.59625 a share of CBS for each of its own shares. A year ago, Viacom had sought 0.6135 a share of CBS.

The two companies, whose assets include Paramount Pictures, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Showtime and CBS All Access, among others, are looking to save $500 million in combined synergies — about half of what they originally announced.

The deal was originally delayed after former CBS boss Les Moonves sought the CEO position among the combined companies. Shari Redstone, who runs Viacom/CBS parent company, National Amusements Inc. for her ailing 94-year-old father, Sumner Redstone, wanted Bob Bakish, CEO of Viacom, to hold the position.

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Moonves dropped out of discussions when he was forced out at CBS following a series of #MeToo allegations.

Now Bakish is seen inheriting the CEO position, which leaves acting CBS CEO Joe Ianniello’s position unknown.

 

CBS, Viacom Re-Merger Nearly Complete; CBS Eyeing Higher Price Point for International ‘All Access’ Rollout

As expected, the Viacom and CBS re-merger could reportedly be announced as early as next week, pending last-minute stock exchange issues.

Fox Business’ Charlie Gasparino Aug. 9 on Twitter said the deal reuniting CBS with parent Viacom after a 13-year split is in the hands of the companies’ respective boards.

Viacom and CBS are majority owned by family-owned National Amusements, which is operated by Shari Redstone on behalf of her ailing 96-year-old father, Sumner Redstone.

Shari Redstone has pushed for the merger, claiming media consolidation is a perquisite for navigating the rapidly changing media landscape and over-the-top video distribution. She also wants Viacom CEO Bob Bakish to lead the combined companies.

Redstone’s strategy was initially rebuffed by former CBS CEO Les Moonves, who wanted the top job. With Moonves out following #MeToo issues, consummation of the merger seemed a formality.

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Separately, CBS says it will have 25 million combined CBS All Access/Showtime OTT subscribers by 2022.

To get there the media giant is rolling out All Access internationally in attempt to borrow a page from Netflix’s subscriber growth playbook.

All Access, like Hulu, is available with limited ads for $5.99 monthly, or ad-free for $9.99 ($11.99 for Hulu).

Speaking on the Aug. 8 fiscal call, acting CEO Joe Ianniello said the company would target Latin America and Europe with the more expensive $9.99 price point.

“Two-thirds of the All Access subs are taking the limited commercial option,” he said. “So obviously, the vast majority of that is the $9.99 price point.”

Ianniello contends there is strong demand for premium content delivered via broadband in the international marketplace.

“I just look at the number of people in the consumption of Netflix,” he said. “I’m very encouraged that this is single-handedly the largest opportunity that we have in front of us.”

Ianniello said CBS targets international distribution of proprietary content on franchise-per-franchise basis. Characterizing the U.S. market as “limited” to 325 million people, the executive contends a global audience in the billions satisfies long-term fiscal goals.

“Our thought is if [international is] willing to pay us [$9.99], we’re going to look at that hard,” Ianniello said. “But if they’re not, we’re going to put it through our own [domestic] infrastructure.”

With Disney announcing it would bundle pending SVOD service Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu, Ianniello said CBS is content limiting its OTT bundling to All Access and Showtime.

“I can understand why others want to kind of do that together because people will subscribe for different reasons,” he said.

With All Access nearly five years old, Ianniello says the company understands its appeal and marketing with Showtime.

“It’s an opportunity we don’t force consumers to do it,” he said. “They can buy part; if they want to buy them together, we obviously discount that. We think again those are different offerings and complementary as well.”

Pluto TV Ups Viacom Programming Slate

Viacom-owned ad-supported online TV streaming service Pluto TV Aug. 6 unveiled a new slate of genre and “pop-up” channels rolling out throughout the month with content licensed from Viacom’s IP library.

Viacom, which owns and operates Paramount Pictures, acquired Los Angeles-based Pluto TV earlier this year for $340 million.

This marks the latest installment of Viacom channels for Pluto TV this year, featuring original programming from BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike and TV Land separate from the pay-TV ecosystem.

The new channels include a lineup of 150+ live, linear, curated channels and thousands of on-demand movies from studios, networks, publishers and digital media companies.

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Genre channels feature differentiated programming from Viacom’s brands that include music videos, comedy, drama, and reality. Pop-Up channels are themed around high-profile, live entertainment events showcasing programming from past years and previews of what’s to come.

Streaming channels include “MTV VMA,” “CMT Cheerleaders,” “Comedy Central Roast,” “TV Land Sitcoms,” “TV Land Drama,” “MTV Wild ‘N Out,” “MTV Ridiculousness,” “MTV The Challenge,” “MTV Cribs” and “Are You the One?”

“With this new slate of Viacom channels, Pluto TV continues to deliver on the promise of extending iconic Viacom brands and content to a growing streaming audience,” Tom Ryan, CEO and co-founder of Pluto TV, said in a statement. “We saw an incredible response to the Viacom channels we launched earlier this year and are excited to be able to expand the offering with even more programming and events including the revival of music videos on streaming television with the launch of the first three of many MTV-branded music video channels.”

 

Pluto TV Launches Spanish-Language Platform

Pluto TV, Viacom’s ad-supported online TV service, July 1 announced the launch of Pluto TV Latino, a new platform featuring a suite of Spanish and Portuguese-language channels.

Pluto TV Latino represents the first offering of its kind to be introduced on a major ad-supported OTT platform.

The platform features 11 curated Spanish and Portuguese-language channels targeting U.S. Hispanic audiences. More than 2,000 hours of content includes movies, comedy, music, true crime, reality, sports and a selection of action and romance-packed telenovelas.

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The channels include three movie-themed channels showcasing blockbuster and native Spanish-language films, and all-new genre-specific channels featuring library collections, music specials, comedies, crime series, telenovelas and more from MTV, Comedy Central, Telemundo, Combate World and Lucha Libre.

Additional channels are expected to launch this fall featuring genres such as food, travel, competition, kids and single-series channels featuring  Spanish-speaking and dubbed versions.

“We have always envisioned Pluto TV as a destination with global appeal, where diverse audiences can find and stream the entertainment they love, for free,” Tom Ryan, CEO/co-founder, Pluto TV, said in a statement.

The introduction Pluto TV Latino is a multi-faceted initiative designed to offer diversified, ad-supported, streaming programming and entertainment with global appeal, according to Ryan.

Spanish-themed channels include Pluto TV Cine Estelar, Pluto TV Películas, Pluto TV Cine Latino, Pluto TV Investiga, Pluto TV Novelas, Telemundo Telenovelas Clásicas, MTV Latino, Comedy Central Latino and Pluto TV Brasil.

“Pluto TV Latino was designed to bring premium streaming programming to an underserved OTT audience with cross-generational appeal,” Ryan said. “To be the first ad-supported streaming platform to offer an entire category dedicated to U.S. Hispanic audiences is something we are incredibly proud of and furthers our mission to entertain the planet.”