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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paramount+, Showtime OTT Log 36 Million Combined Subscribers Globally

It’s a streaming world at ViacomCBS as the media company reported that its upstart Paramount+ SVOD service (formerly CBS All Access) and Showtime OTT subscription streaming video platforms had a combined 36 million subs worldwide through the first quarter (ended March 31). That’s up 6 million subs since the previously-reported period.

ViacomCBS did not update total domestic Paramount+ and Showtime OTT subscribers, which ended Feb. 24 with 19.6 million combined members. CBS All Access became Paramount+ on March 4.

On Paramount+, the biggest drivers of sign-ups were live sports and specials, including the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Tournament, UEFA Champions League Soccer, “Oprah With Meghan and Harry” and “The Grammy Awards,” as well as kids’ content, including programming from the “SpongeBob” universe and “iCarly,” and original programming, including “The Stand” and “Star Trek: Discovery.”

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Original programming, content from cable brands and Paramount movies drove almost half of Paramount+ subscriber engagement. Globally, Nickelodeon programming was a significant driver of sign-ups and
engagement on Paramount+.

Next up for Paramount+ is Australia, which launches there on Aug. 11, featuring Paramount movies, Showtime, and Paramount+ Originals, in addition to a cross-section of product from cable brands and Network 10.

“By the end of 2021, we’ll have launched subscription streaming services led by Paramount+ in 25 markets,” ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said on the fiscal call.

Showtime OTT delivered its best quarter ever in sign-ups, streams and hours watched, driven by originals, including “Your Honor” and “Shameless,” as well as theatricals.

Separately, AVOD platform Pluto TV saw monthly average users increase to nearly 50 million, adding 6 million global users in the quarter. Pluto TV’s international expansion has continued, launching in France.

Hulu + Live TV Adds Nine ViacomCBS Networks

Hulu + Live TV is adding nine ViacomCBS networks to its channel lineup, including Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, VH1, CMT, MTV, TV Land and the Paramount Network.

Subscribers will also have on-demand access to TV series titles such as “Freaks & Geeks,” “Moesha” and “Sister Sister.”

Monthly subscription pricing for Hulu + Live TV will remain at $64.99 per month.

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Five ViacomCBS networks — BETher, MTV2, NickToons, TeenNick and MTV Classic — will join Hulu’s entertainment add-on.

Hulu + Live TV offers more than 65 live TV channels, plus the core Hulu on-demand service (normally $5.99 per month as a standalone offering).

Pluto TV Expanding Spanish-Language Programming

Pluto TV May 5 will unveil “Pluto TV en español,” — an expansion to its dedicated category for U.S. Hispanics. The ViacomCBS-owned AVOD platform currently streams to more than 43 million monthly active users across three continents and 25 countries. With this update, Pluto TV’s U.S. Hispanic offerings will double, with nearly 50 Spanish-speaking channels across the platform, totaling more than 20% of Pluto’s overall channel lineup.

Pluto was first to market in 2019 with the launch of its branded Pluto TV Latino category — now renamed to reflect and better appeal to the  domestic Hispanic community. The expansion includes more than 45 channels, a combination of renamed, existing and 20 all-new channels.

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The hand-picked content will feature multiple genres, including movies, reality and scripted series, news, novelas, anime and more with select titles available on-demand. The category will contain both dubbed and Spanish original language content. The “Pluto TV en español” category joins an existing 200 channels on the platform and more than 150,000 hours of free, ad-supported streaming content in English and Spanish.

“We are building on that branded strategy and success by bringing even more programming, channels and genres to meet the increasing demand for streaming throughout the U.S. Hispanic community,” Tom Ryan, CEO, of ViacomCBS Streaming, said in a statement.

Working with Pluto’s existing content partners, Pluto TV en español will feature exclusive series and channels, including “CSI: Miami,” “Criminal Minds,” “Narcos,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “007 en español” and “Nosey casos,” alongside sports and news. For the first time, Spanish-speaking news programming will debut in the category with EuroNews, EstrellaTV, Estrella News and Telefe noticias. New channels to the category also include: Cine XOXO, ¡¡Cine jaja!!, Nashville en español, Viaje a las estrellas, Emergencia 911, Mundo paranormal, Hell’s Kitchen en español, Sony Canal Comedias, Entre nosotras, Sony Canal Escape Perfecto, Nosey escándalos, beIN SPORTS XTRA en español, Naruto en español, Yu-Gi-Oh! en españoland more.

For ease of discovery, Nick Latino, Nick Jr. Latino and Bebecito Bum y sus amigoswill remain in the Pluto TV Kids category and Vevo Latino and Vevo Reggaeton & Trap in the Pluto TV Music category.

The debut of Pluto TV en español will be further amplified with a multichannel marketing campaign that will span digital and social platforms, with audio drive-time pushes in 11 key Hispanic markets, OTT and mobile campaigns and Pluto TV on-platform initiatives that will run throughout Pluto TV’s extensive lineup of over 250 channels. Additionally, there will be social promotions including free TV giveaways and on-platform marketing and support from Pluto TV’s key content and distribution partners.

‘SpongeBob,’ ‘Star Trek’ Top First Week of Paramount+

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run and “Star Trek: Discovery” topped subscriber choices in the first week (March 4-10) ViacomCBS launched streaming service Paramount+, according to new data from JustWatch. The platform is an international streaming guide with more than 20 million users across 46 countries.

Paramount+, which is the new brand name for CBS All Access, is available monthly with advertising for $5.99, and $9.99 without ads. The AVOD option drops to $4.99 in June with access still largely limited to catalog content.

All Access and Showtime OTT ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than 19 million combined subscribers.

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The Week the Pay-TV Bundle Died

NEWS ANALYSIS — Fox Corp. and Disney-owned ESPN March 18 became the latest media companies to ink 11-year carriage agreements through 2033 with the National Football League that include landmark direct-to-consumer distribution via ad-supported VOD platform Tubi and SVOD service ESPN+, respectively.

When combined with the NFL’s other new contracts with ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Fox Corp., Amazon and Disney, the deals are reportedly worth a staggering $113 billion to the world’s biggest-revenue sports league. Despite slumping ratings and empty stadiums, live sports remains one of the most coveted prizes in the television business.

Why? The pay-TV market ended 2020 on record as the one of the worst for churn, or subscribers canceling the cable bundle — losing 1.4 million combined subs in Q4 alone. Cable operator WideOpenWest in February revealed it would lose 66% of its sub base in the next three years. Household subscriber penetration now stands at 60% — the lowest level since 1994.

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“The media industry just suffered from the worst year ever for cord cutting,” analyst firm MoffetNathanson wrote in a note.

To stanch the bleeding, media companies, whose assets include pay-TV, now covet over-the-top access to the NFL in order to gain a stronger digital foothold. And the NFL was willing to oblige — for a price.

ESPN+, which ended Disney’s most-recent fiscal period with 12 million subscribers, for the first time will stream a Saturday doubleheader during the season’s final weekend and one Sunday morning game.

“There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements,”  Jimmy Pitaro, content chairman at ESPN, said in a statement. “It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached [previously] with the NFL.”

Fox will create an “NFL experience” on Tubi consisting of fee-based premiere VOD as well as condensed free ad-supported games throughout the NFL season.

“We are pleased to broaden our deal to include new digital rights that provide us with the flexibility to deliver NFL to customers in expanded and innovative ways,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said. “This long-term agreement ensures that we will continue to deliver the best in football coverage to our viewers while also strengthening and providing optionality to our business.”

The “optionality” to deliver live football to consumers via subscription streaming video and AVOD is relatively new in the U.S., and underscores the changing dynamics surrounding content distribution in the digital age.

“People want to watch it whenever it is convenient right now,” David Mowrey, VP of product management with Clearlap, which conducted a 2015 consumer survey gauging consumer interest paying for live sports streaming access, told CNET. “There’s still a lot of opportunity to create better experiences particularly around streaming sports.”

Industry data contends there was a peak 105 million pay-TV households in 2010, a tally that has been plummeting ever since. Despite the pandemic putting increased eyeballs in front of the television, the pay-TV market declined to less than 83 million households in 2020 — with new estimates dropping that number by another 10 million in two years.

As a result, live sports delivered on cable, satellite and telecom premium channels was seen as the industry’s Ace card against further subscriber churn, according to Mike Vorhaus with Magid Advisors.

“Sports is a major deterrent to cord cutting,” Vorhaus said in 2015 — a lifetime ago in the rapidly evolving digital media landscape.

“I think it’s 10 years, and there’ll be a total change of the guard,” Chris Long, a former DirecTV executive and now CEO of Cedar Park Entertainment, told Variety last summer. “At some point, people will make that decision of ‘I can get everything I want [in streaming]. I no longer need to have 180 channels that I only watch 12 of.'”

Indeed, sports’ move to digital marks another blow to the channel bundle business model that branched out into online TV (Dish Networks’ Sling TV, AT&T TV and ESPN+ Live TV) in an effort to thwart subscriber churn.

But with OTT video behemoth Netflix uninterested (thus far) in live sports, ViacomCBS’ streaming platform Paramount+, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Amazon Prime Video jumped in the deep end this week, inking separate deals with the NFL, including Peacock and Prime Video being granted exclusive streaming access to “Sunday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football,” respectively.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said ad-supported SVOD/AVOD platforms give media companies dealing with declining pay-TV revenue the ability to increase revenue and offset live-sports carriage fees.

The analyst said Hulu, through its ad-supported options, generates as much as $10 per user per month. The lower tier subscription is limited in its ability to deliver ads (usually three to four minutes per hour), but the completely free versions can advertise as much as 10 to 12 minutes per hour.

“So, there is plenty of room to grow revenue for most of these guys,” Pachter said.

NFL Inks New Carriage Deals With NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS; Includes Landmark Streaming on Peacock, Paramount+ and Pluto TV

The National Football League March 18 announced separate 11-year carriage/streaming video distribution deals with NBCUniversal and  ViacomCBS. The pacts include notable live-game streaming rights to games on Peacock, Paramount+, and in a first — Pluto TV — underscoring OTT video’s increased presence in live sports programming in the United States.

With the new agreements, which begin with the 2023 NFL season, NBC and Peacock will present “Sunday Night Football” through 2033 — a span of 28 seasons for NBC as the home of the NFL’s top-rated primetime package (since its 2006 debut). In addition, beginning with the upcoming 2021 season, Peacock will stream all “Sunday Night Football” games and the “Football Night in America” studio show. Peacock will also produce a new expanded postgame show following SNF each week.

“Sunday Night Football’ has been television’s most-watched primetime show for a decade, and we look forward to continuing our presentation of SNF, Super Bowls, and playoff games for many years to come, while also broadening our audience with Peacock becoming the live streaming home for all NBC NFL games,” Pete Bevacqua, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said in a statement.

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NBC Sports, which produced the first-ever NFL broadcast on Oct. 22, 1939 (Philadelphia Eagles-Brooklyn Dodgers from Ebbets Field), will present four of the next 13 Super Bowls, including three Super Bowls as part of the new agreement. Home of the upcoming Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in February 2022, NBC and Peacock will broadcast and stream Super Bowls in February 2026, February 2030 and February 2034. NBC Sports’ presentation of Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015 is the most-watched show in U.S. television history (114.4 million viewers on NBC).

Meanwhile, CBS Sports continues as the home of the NFL’s American Football Conference (AFC), with all games broadcast on the CBS Television Network and streamed live on Paramount+. This historic agreement also grants an expansive list of NFL rights across ViacomCBS networks and platforms (i.e. Pluto TV), enabling the company to maximize its content creation, distribution and reach throughout the length of the deal.

The new agreement allows for CBS Sports to broadcast and stream more Sunday afternoon games and includes an expanded schedule of games featuring teams from the National Football Conference (NFC). In addition, the schedule is highlighted by 10 CBS doubleheaders, including Sundays at 4:25 p.m. ET, eight single-headers and the annual Thanksgiving Day game. CBS Sports will broadcast three Super Bowls over the length of the deal, including the first in the new agreement, Super Bowl LVIII in 2024, as well as Super Bowl LXII in 2028 and Super Bowl LXVI in 2032.

The CBS Television Network and Paramount+ will also present a full slate of playoff games, featuring the AFC Championship game, one Divisional game and one Wild Card game. A second Wild Card game will be added to the CBS Sports lineup during the 2024, 2029 and 2033 seasons.

ViacomCBS will retain extensive in-market exclusivity, ensuring that the CBS-affiliated stations and ViacomCBS platforms will continue to have local availability of “The NFL on CBS.” CBS will also gain increased rights to protect games from being flexed to other networks and time slots.

“Today’s groundbreaking deal ensures that more big games will be available on CBS and Paramount+, with greater NFL programming opportunities featured across all ViacomCBS platforms, including Pluto TV, vastly expanding the NFL’s reach among younger audiences in a rapidly evolving media landscape,” said CEO Bob Bakish.

 

WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS, Sky Partner to Launch Captions on U.K. Children’s Programming

In a move to improve literacy among young children, WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Comcast-owned Sky have partnered on a platform called “Turn on the Subtitles” to roll out captioning on more than 500 episodes of children’s programming in the United Kingdom.

Poor literacy skills can hold a person back throughout their life and currently one in four children in the U.K. leave primary school without being able to read fluently. Turning on same-language subtitles for children’s content can double the chance of them becoming a proficient reader.

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“By providing a range of our best-loved titles from Cartoon Network and Boomerang, such as ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ and ‘Be Cool,’ and ‘Scooby-Doo,’ we hope to contribute to improving children’s reading skills across the U.K. and Ireland,” Vanessa Brookman, head of kids at WarnerMedia EMEA, said in a statement.

Eye-tracking behavior research shows that 94% of children engage with subtitles while watching their favorite shows which can improve spelling, grammar and vocabulary, with the child often unaware they are learning.

The Sky Kids subtitled collection has been curated with some of the most popular children’s content, including “SpongeBob SquarePants” (Nicktoons), “PAW Patrol” (Nick Jr.), and Sky Kids Originals such as “Pirates Love Underpants” and “Moominvalley.”

“Some ideas are so powerful that something must be done about them,” Oli Barrett MBE, co-founder of Turn on the Subtitles, said in a statement. “Subtitles improving literacy is one of those ideas. This campaign takes an incredibly simple insight and uses it to improve people’s lives.”

Parrot Research: Paramount+ Launches With Strong Originals

Paramount+ launches with strong demand for its “Star Trek” series and original dramas, with seven originals at launch that rank in the “Outstanding” category of demand, according to Parrot Analytics, placing them in the top 3% of all TV series by demand.

“The fact that the platform’s top three series are all from the ‘Star Trek’ world suggests the emphasis on Paramount+ as the home of ‘Star Trek’ could be a winning strategy, ala Disney+’s use of ‘The Mandalorian’ and ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ to build a massive subscriber base,” according to Parrot.

Paramount+ is outranking its most direct competitor — Comcast’s Peacock — in U.S. demand for original programming, according to Parrot. When compared to Peacock originals, Paramount+ has the top five and seven of the top eight most in-demand original series between the two platforms. Paramount+ has seven different series with “Outstanding” demand, compared to just one for Peacock.

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Paramount+ has chosen several highly in-demand TV franchises to reboot or expand, targeting many different audiences, from anime, to sitcoms, to procedural dramas to children’s series, Parrot noted. CBS hit “Criminal Minds” will get a reboot. The show is currently drawing 36.5x the demand of the average series in the United States, putting it in the top 0.2% of all shows by demand.

“Considering it has been off air for more than a year and it’s still drawing this much demand, new content featuring this franchise will likely expand on its already massive audience,” according to Parrot.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is another franchise that is ripe for audience expansion, according to Parrot. The show quickly became one of the top 10 most in-demand shows in the United States when it debuted on Netflix last summer, so Paramount+ getting the shows’ creators back in their fold looks like a “savvy move,” Parrot noted.

Parrot also looked at the potential for the streaming service, analyzing the content libraries it controls, including all titles they are able to regain once all licensing rights sold to third parties expire. In this regard, Viacom stacks up pretty well in its long-term potential, finishing just a hair behind AT&T, but well above Comcast and Netflix in the battle for library content demand, according to Parrot.

“Paramount+’s strategy of doubling down on the ‘Star Trek’ franchise while rebooting older highly in-demand TV content, along with its differentiators in the sports and news space, should place it in the middle tier of the streaming competition,” Parrot noted.