ViacomCBS executives took a page out of the Disney playbook with a three-hour investors’ extravaganza Wednesday where they previewed their streaming strategy, anchored by the soon-to-launch Paramount+, and what it meant for the company’s bottom line. The familiar themes from existing streaming players are all there: Namely spend big on content ($5 billion annually by 2024) and leverage existing IP (“Criminal Minds” and “60 Minutes” will both get streaming-ready reboots).
But as much as ViacomCBS is imitating their competitors’ success, it’s also approaching a streaming-first future on its own terms. Unlike Disney and its Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ bundle, a single app gives the customer programming for adults and kids, live news and sports offerings, a library with 2,500 movies and 30,000 episodes, and exclusive content from the likes of MTV, Comedy Central, and CBS.
While WarnerMedia built its offering around HBO Max, ViacomCBS will keep Showtime as a separate paid service. Pluto TV will also remain in play.
Together the services — Paramount+, Showtime, BET+, and Pluto — make up a three-pronged streaming strategy that’s part of what executives call the super funnel. It’s all about selling ads, reaching consumers online, on TV, and in streaming, selling them more subscriptions, and milking the most money out of as many eyeballs as possible.
Take Pluto TV: The free, ad-supported service offers custom live channels with a range of movies and shows. It now has over 43 million monthly active users globally, an 80 percent year-to-year increase.
One channel it offers is Showtime Selects, it’s ostensibly a free, ad-supported channel, but for the company it represents an opportunity to sell. When the Bryan Cranston-led”Your Honor” premiered on Showtime in December, more people watched the first episode and then followed through with subscribing to Showtime on Pluto TV than they did on YouTube.
“Once they’re hooked, we offer a trial subscription for more,” said Tom Ryan, ViacomCBS’ president and CEO of streaming.
ViacomCBS plans to repeat that success with a Paramount+ Selects channel. It will also give subscribers a chance to add Showtime programming to Paramount+
“We believe in the broader strategy of carving out lanes. Some viewers will want the free content on Pluto. Some will want the broad offerings on Paramount+ and some will want the premium entertainment offerings on Showtime,” said David Nevins, CBS’ chief creative officer and Showtime Networks chairman. “People are used to paying for premium Showtime content.”
Unlike HBO Max with its day-and-date strategy for the entirety of Warner Bros. 2021 theatrical slate, Paramount is signaling it is more committed to theatrical. But the old 90-day theatrical window is out for some of the biggest titles. “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Mission Impossible” will appear on Paramount+ 45 days after hitting theaters later this year; other films will get a 30 day theatrical window, while others will continue with more traditional windowing including a pay-one widow with Epix.
Other films will head straight to the service, including “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” in the United States. Meantime, all of ViacomCBS’ studio units are working on movies exclusively for the service.
Chair Shari Redstone said more than many of its competitors, ViacomCBS is straddling the line between linear and theatrical and streaming.
“Some people will tell you that a company like ours has to choose: we’re either all in on linear or all in on streaming. We think that’s a false choice,” she said. “The industry is transitioning, but for consumers, it’s happening at different paces in different places. We will live in this hybrid environment for a while. We are the company that is best positioned to enable this transition over time.”
When the service launches March 4, it will be available in the US for $9.99. It will also launch in Latin America and Canada that same day, with the Nordics and Australia later this year.
Another key part to Paramount+’s strategy is news and sports. The service will offer every NFL game live, as well as college football and basketball, and soccer matches from leagues around the world. Executives say soccer is a valuable investment: it skews younger, is growing in popularity, and it has driven more subscriptions to CBS All Access (Paramount+’s predecessor) than any other sport besides the NFL, executives said.
CBS News will come in both local and national flavors, with both linear and on-demand offerings. “60 Minutes” will get a made-for-streaming spinoff, unsurprisingly titled “60 Minutes+,” geared toward millennials. And news magazine “48 Hours” will get a makeover, “Forty Eight Hours,” meant to capitalize on the craze of true-crime content.
In June, a $4.99 ad-supported option will become available in the US, offering less sports programming as well as nixing the availability of live local stations and the CBS broadcast live feed.
In this liminal time where theatrical is still in play but people are increasingly favoring streaming, ViacomCBS’ strategy marks a clear recognition that they need to aim younger. After all, CBS was home to 24 of the 25 oldest-skewing broadcast TV series last year, according to The Wrap.
Proof of just how much executives understand the fatality of that fact: CBS News, the global, 24/7 news stream that is available on CBS All Access, has an audience that skews 20 years younger than the network’s broadcast news audience. Good thing the feed will be a centerpiece of Paramount+.