It’s fitting that Paramount Plus—the rebranded reboot of the underwhelming CBS All Access—will itself feature so many reboots, sequels, brand extensions and revisits, including such TV Hall of Famers as Frasier, The Real World, Ray Donovan, 60 Minutes, Rugrats, SpongeBob SquarePants and, of course, Star Trek.
This is, as executives suggested throughout a three-hour investor showcase Wednesday, about video consumption as comfort food. Paramount Plus aims to provide a lot of familiar and popular meals built around the endless invoked mantra of “breaking news, live sports and a mountain of entertainment.”
More importantly, said ViacomCBS Chairman Shari Redstone in the opening remarks of the slick, glitch-filled presentation, “This is not your father’s ViacomCBS, or my father’s,” a reference to parent and media pioneer Sumner Redstone.
Paramount Plus is certainly wildly different from what the paterfamilias built during cable TV’s 1990s heyday atop a family-owned theater chain, yet Paramount Plus is constructed tightly around the media brands and fan-favorite franchises that sit under the ViacomCBS banner.
A bigger question the day’s discussions couldn’t answer is whether the pure-play media company can compete against deep-pocketed giants such as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Netflix and Comcast, especially given its late start in the market compared to premium services from all those companies.
Our Full Coverage of Wednesday's Presentation:
But ViacomCBS is spending heavily on programming and marketing, and will have plenty to talk about, with boulder-sized blocks of content unavailable elsewhere in streaming.
Building on 2020’s $15 billion content spend, ViacomCBS plans $1 billion worth of streaming “originals” in 2021, some 36 streaming-only shows. That streaming-content spend is expected to grow to $5 billion by 2025, CFO and executive VP Naveen Chopra said.
The service also will feature early online premiers of Paramount Pictures theatrical releases, the full CBS live feed, documentaries, sports such as NFL games and European and South American soccer, reality shows, children’s programming, 24/7 CBS News programming and 200 local affiliates’ feeds, backed by a library of 30,000 TV episodes and 2,500 movies.
Other reboots and brand extensions include a 3D CGI movie of Rugrats, a revived iCarly, live-action versions of Dora the Explorer and Fairly Odd Parents, a final season of Younger. a 10-episode spinoff of Criminal Minds that follows a single case, and episodic series built around The Italian Job, The Parallax View, Flashdance, Grease and BET’s The Game. Chiwetel Ejiofor will star in a reboot of The Man Who Fell To Earth. 60 Minutes will get its own plus-named version, featuring a crop of younger correspondents chasing younger audiences.
The Star Trek Universe, as the company grandly calls it, will get three new series, including an animated series pitched for kids, Star Trek Prodigy.
And there will be some moderately original “originals” too, like a Ripley series based on the Patricia Highsmith character, Guilty Party featuring Kate Beckinsale, three Western-inflected series from Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan, and true-crime and soccer documentaries.
For all that, previously underwhelmed All Access subscribers will continue to pony up $9.99 per month for the full mountain. A foothill-sized tier is coming in June with ads, less news and sports, and a $4.99 monthly price. The ad-supported tier will still have all that library of shows and movies. The cheaper tier will also provide the company with flexibility in creating bundles with distribution platforms and other SVOD providers.
ViacomCBS assured "near universal" distribution of Paramount Plus, but didn't mention Roku, Amazon, Google or Apple deals specifically.
For all the day’s focus on Paramount Plus, though, the SVOD service was only part of the showcase. Company executives detailed what they’re calling an ecosystem of “free, pay and premiere” programming across online, cable TV and broadcast that are designed to cross-promote and amortize marketing and programming investments.
“Through all of these touch points, we can expand the funnel's base and keep demonstrating the value” to audiences, said Tom Ryan, founder of ad-supported Pluto TV and now architect of ViacomCBS’ overall streaming strategy. “We keep making them offers they can't refuse. Once they're hooked, we offer a trial subscription for more.”
ViacomCBS has a goal to grow streaming revenue to $7 billion by 2024, Chopra said, though he declined to break out how much might come from subscriptions and how much from advertising. Bundling for Pluto, and novel ways to cut up its offerings and ad products, will be part of the work.
“We’re looking at ways to expand Pluto distribution,” Ryan said, with potential partners in “advanced discussions.
“The $4.99 tier gives us much greater flexibility on how we do deals with partners, but we’re just getting started on that, so stay tuned,” he noted.
The company has global ambitions for Paramount Plus, with 2021 rollouts in North and South America, the Nordic countries and Australia part of initial plans. Pluto TV is also expanding globally, trying to capture a large share of a market for FAST video services Chopra said is estimated at $50 billion over the next few years.
Importantly, Redstone said, the company will be about “linear and streaming,” serving multiple audiences with a range of delivery modes that feed into a “super funnel” helping drive both advertising and subscription revenues.
“It’s why we believe in the broader strategy of carving out lanes,” allowing different audiences to find the content they want, on the platform they’re comfortable with, said Showtime chief David Nevins, who is overseeing the long-gestating project to create a series based on the iconic video game franchise Halo.
Despite Nevins’ oversight, the Halo series, now expected next year, will run on Paramount Plus because of its potential appeal to a broader “four-quadrant” audience, Bakish said.
But Showtime’s OTT app will remain a separate entity for an audience that loves the service’s edgier content. New Showtime programming will feature series such as American Rust, The First Lady, a Safdi Brothers satire called The Curse, and Yellowjackets, about adult survivors looking back at a plane crash involving their girls soccer team.
So too will BET+, the 18-month-old premium service targeting what BET President Scott Mills called “black super consumers of TV,” providing new shows from such heavyweight producers as Tyler Perry and Kenya Barris.
BET+ will also be packaged in various bundling strategies as a way to reach those super consumers, Mills said.
“Combining them allows us to serve a wide variety of consumer needs,” Mills said.
Chopra said the company’s Q4 results included $6.9 billion in revenues, up 3% year over year, with domestic streaming subscriptions up 71% to 19.2 million households, and globally to 29.9 million users.
Pluto monthly average users were up 34 percent domestically, to 30.1 million users, and 43.1 million globally, Chopra said.
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