Programming from Pluto TV, Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures would be combined with that of All Access and Showtime. The company plans to lift the veil on certain details about the offering on February 20, when it releases its first quarterly earnings since completing the merger in December.
The new service would be “differentiated” product from what exists now and coexist with current offerings, insiders indicated. It would combine sports, news live viewing and the full breadth and depth of the company’s expanded portfolio across demos, genres and geographies.
While Viacom had been more selective about subscription streaming, launching BET+ last fall and the Noggin preschool service several years ago, CBS was an early player in direct-to-consumer, launching All Access and Showtime in 2015. The two have passed 10 million combined subscribers and are on track to hit internal targets of 25 million by 2022. All Access has gained scale with a combination of library fare and high-profile originals like The Good Fight and Star Trek offshoots, it also has brought live, local programming, including sports like NFL football and NCAA March Madness.
CNBC had the first report of the company’s plans.
There would be an ad-free version and a premium version that includes Showtime. There’s been no final decision, name or price, although it would likely be less than $10 a month for the basic tier.
This would be a bold and in a sense surprising move by ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish. In addition to divulging more plans for the new product he is expected to go in more depth than ever before into the metrics and financials of the company’s other streaming assets, including revenue figures.
Chief Digital Officer Marc DeBevoise, Pluto TV CEO Tom Ryan and president of U.S. Networks Distribution Ray Hopkins have been working with Bakish on the initiative.
ViacomCBS has clearly felt left out in the cold as the streaming wars broke out with four new services launched or planned between last fall and this spring. Apple and Disney have launched subscription offerings and NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia will debut major new services in the coming months. All are aimed at closing the gap with Netflix and shoring up prospects as the traditional pay-TV bundle continues to fray. Disney, for example, when it released its quartely numbers on Tuesday, reported dramatic progress in streaming with 28.6 million subscribers to Disney+ while at the same time showing a decline of 4.5% in subscribers to its core pay-TV networks.
In the case of ViacomCBS, the delicate strategic balance is how to continue to make lucrative licensing deals to third parties and also in some cases hold programming back as fuel for company initiatives. In the latter months of 2019, the company sold streaming rights to Comedy Central mainstay South Park to HBO Max in a rich deal, and also set a nine-figure agreement with Netflix for certain Nickelodeon content.
In an appearance last December at the Paley Center for Media in New York, ViacomCBS chairman Shari Redstone insisted that the company can continue to be opportunistic, licensing out in some cases, holding back in others. A blended strategy “is the best way to maximize the value of our content and grow our brands around the world.”