CBS Acting CEO Joe Ianniello On NFL Rights, Pay-TV Carriage And Streaming Growth: “We Don’t Call It Churn; We Call It Pausing”

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CBS acting CEO Joe Ianniello said two-thirds of subscribers to CBS All Access are paying an extra $4 a month for the ad-free version of the app.

The company hasn’t broken out each of its SVOD properties — All Access and Showtime — but said last month they had together passed 8 million subscribers. The basic, ad-supported streaming service launched in 2015, and the ad-free came a year later.

In an appearance at the Deutsche Bank 2019 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Florida, Ianniello said having different streaming approaches is helpful to the company’s progress. In keeping with recent announcements from NBCUniversal and other players mounting ad-supported streaming efforts, CBS has nurtured news, sports and entertainment offerings with ads. That AVOD portfolio enables the company to “upsell” consumers to subscription platforms, he said.

Joe Ianiello
Joe Ianniello John Paul Filo/CBS

“When someone cancels their subscription, we don’t call it churn. We call it pausing. Because they come back,” Ianniello said. One element to minimizing the pauses, he said, is producing enough original content. In terms of how it plans to sustain the level of output in order to sustain growth in streaming, Ianniello said, “We have a good hand. We feel strategically complete … I’ve never felt small when we’re negotiating across the table from an MVPD or an advertiser.”

Ianniello took the stage this morning as the CBS search for a permanent CEO entered its final weeks. Along with Hasbro’s Brian Goldner and former Disney exec Tom Staggs, Ianniello is considered a strong contender for the permanent post. Despite strong ties to ousted CEO Les Moonves, a demerit to some with a say, the acting chief has generally kept the company running smoothly despite a radical makeover after a welter of sexual harassment and assault allegations hit Moonves.

Asked to assess the management team he has put in place in recent months, Ianniello pointed to content chief David Nevins, CBS News boss Susan Zirinsky, both newly established in their roles, and Sean McManus, longtime head of CBS Sports. “I think we have the leadership team to take us across the next three to five years” and accomplish a range of business goals, he said.

Asked about the ad load on CBS — in an environment where many rivals are trying to thin out the ads to match viewer preference — Ianniello said not much has changed. Traditional approaches are “tried and tested,” he said. “We haven’t changed the ad load. It works for us and we don’t see that changing.”

Sports-wise, he reiterated the views expressed last month on the company’s quarterly earnings call about continuing with NFL broadcasts. As to reports that the NFL may mix and match with networks and conferences, as opposed to the traditional AFC-NFC split. “We had some NFC games last year,” Ianniello noted. “I think that works for the NFL to have that on different networks.”

In terms of distribution, Ianniello noted, “Since 2013, you haven’t really heard about a dust-up with CBS” and a pay-TV distributor, since that year’s epic clash with Time Warner Cable.

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