“This is an arms race to get there,” he said in a keynote appearance at Deutsche Bank’s 26th annual Media, Telecom & Business Services Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. “I’m not sure there are going to be 30 direct-to-consumer channels that are going to be out there. There will be some sort of oligopoly at the end of the day and we’d like to think that we’ll be one of them.”
The company’s two OTT services combined have 5 million subscribers and are pacing ahead of CBS projections for 8 million subscribers by 2020, as execs have highlighted recently. Ianniello said the biggest advantage three years into running OTT services is the ability to harvest data. In the traditional ecosystem, “The distributor had all of the data. You would broadcast and you’d wait for some kind of third party to tell you which demographic watched,” he said. “We have perfect information in terms of consumption — what they watch, when they watch, how they watch. And so it makes us smarter in our programming and on the CBS side it makes a difference with advertising.”
About 25% of All Access subscribers have opted for the higher-priced limited-advertising version of the service, he said, with Amazon’s promotional efforts around the service just now taking effect.
The company’s increased investment in OTT — with six or seven originals coming to All Access over the next 12 months — will pay dividends in terms of new subscribers and a new distribution horizon. “We’re in the growth phase now, so to starve it or to manage it for margin, we think, would be inappropriate,” Ianniello said. While he didn’t cite Netflix’s $8 billion content budget, he said CBS is “nowhere near the top of the curve” in terms of content spending.
Now is not the time to tap the brakes, he added. “If we were managing the content for margin, we would have sold Star Trek to Netflix domestically, we would have not spent as much money on content. We would have sold all of our shows into domestic syndication.” In terms of evaluating returns on boosting spending versus more conservative approaches, “We’re constantly making those trade-offs as we look long-term.”
Speaking of long term, Ianniello was asked about prospects for renewing the CBS deal for NFL games on Sundays, which expires at the end of the 2022 season, and the potential hit to the balance sheet from a renewal. While he side-stepped any detailed discussion of pricing or the possibility of impairment to entertainment spending, he expressed confidence in a re-up. “On the Sunday package, there’s many many billions of dollars at stake now,” he said. “Five years from now, I would bet that most games will still be viewed on broadcast television. … CBS has been a great partner to the NFL.”
International streaming is an arena of opportunity, Ianniello said, but the company is proceeding patiently given it does not have global sales teams. “It will take some time to launch” globally, he said, isolating the strategy as, “We see Netflix and see what they can do and we say, ‘What % of Netflix can we be?’”
One priority as the “slow and steady” international rollout begins is owning as much content as possible. Showtime, which began its originals business years ago with a spate of co-finance deals, now owns 85% of its originals, Ianniello said.