Multiple people familiar with the deal confirmed it has been sealed despite the difficult operating environment. Sports programming, which has been wiped out by COVID-19, plays a key role in the ViacomCBS portfolio. At the same time it reached terms with ViacomCBS, FiOS also made a carriage deal with SNY, the New York regional sports network that airs New York Mets baseball and other local games.
There are dozens of networks under the ViacomCBS tent, and Wall Street analysts have been eager to see how soon their various carriage renewal cycles would become aligned. Increasing scale on the programming front, which confers leverage in distribution talks, was a key motivation behind the merger of Viacom and CBS, which were each controlled by National Amusements.
Distribution has been a top priority for CEO Bob Bakish since he took the reins at Viacom following several scorched-earth years of dealmaking by ousted CEO Philippe Dauman. Bakish mended several fences, repairing ruptures with Altice One and others before becoming chief of the merged company. He appointed Ray Hopkins, who ran distribution for years at CBS, as head of U.S. distribution, one of just a handful of CBS executives to take top roles at the merged company. Appearing at a Morgan Stanley investor conference in March, Bakish said, “If you ask MVPDs, they’ll tell you we know how to get deals done.”
Programmers and distributors have had natural friction for years over deal terms but both sides are taking part in negotiations as everyone contends with the massive disruption of streaming. Verizon’s discussions with any programmer involve back and forth about how streaming assets are integrated into operators’ systems. Viacom CBS has a range of both subscription and ad-supported services. According to a report in Sports Business Daily, for example, some quid pro quo played a role in a recent deal by SNY stakeholder Charter Communications. SportsNet LA, a network owned by Charter, secured carriage on AT&T’s DirecTV — a must-have platform — after agreeing to carry WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max when it launches May 27.
ViacomCBS and Verizon reps did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on the agreement.