ViacomCBS executives took a page out of the Disney playbook with a three-hour investors’ extravaganza February 24 during which executives previewed the streaming strategy anchored by the soon-to-launch Paramount+. Familiar streaming themes were there and accounted for: Spend big on content ($5 billion annually by 2024) and leverage existing IP (“Criminal Minds,” “Frasier,” and “60 Minutes” will all get streaming-ready reboots).
Even as ViacomCBS imitates its competitors’ success, it’s approaching a streaming-first future on its own terms. Unlike Disney and its Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ bundle, the single Paramount+ app provides programming for adults and kids, live news and sports, a library with 2,500 movies and 30,000 episodes, and exclusive content from the likes of MTV, Comedy Central, and CBS.
Where WarnerMedia built its offering around HBO Max, ViacomCBS will keep Showtime as a separate paid service. The ad-based Pluto TV will also remain in play.
Together, Paramount+, Showtime, BET+, and Pluto create what Viacom executives called “the super funnel” designed to sell ads and reach consumers online, on TV, and in streaming.
Pluto TV, the free, ad-supported network that offers custom live channels with a range of movies and shows, now has over 43 million monthly active users globally, an 80 percent year-to-year increase.
Among its channels is Showtime Selects, a free, ad-supported channel that also represents an opportunity to upsell. When the Bryan Cranston-starring “Your Honor” premiered on Showtime in December, more people watched the first episode on Pluto TV, and then followed through by subscribing, than they did via YouTube.
“Once they’re hooked, we offer a trial subscription for more,” said Tom Ryan, ViacomCBS’ president and CEO of streaming.
ViacomCBS plans to repeat that success with a Paramount+ Selects channel that gives subscribers a chance to add Showtime programming to Paramount+.
“We believe in the broader strategy of carving out lanes,” said David Nevins, CBS’ chief creative officer and Showtime Networks chairman. “Some viewers will want the free content on Pluto. Some will want the broad offerings on Paramount+ and some will want the premium entertainment offerings on Showtime. People are used to paying for premium Showtime content.”
Unlike HBO Max with its day-and-date strategy for the Warner Bros. 2021 theatrical slate, Paramount signaled a stronger commitment to theatrical — at least by comparison. The 90-day theatrical window has been replaced: “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Mission Impossible” will appear on Paramount+ 45 days after hitting theaters later this year, while other films will get a 30-day theatrical window.
Other films will head straight to Paramount+ in the US, including “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.” All ViacomCBS studio units are working on movies exclusively for the service.
Chair Shari Redstone said more than many of its competitors, ViacomCBS straddles the lines between linear, theatrical, and streaming.
“Some people will tell you that a company like ours has to choose: We’re either all in on linear or all in on streaming. We think that’s a false choice,” she said. “The industry is transitioning, but for consumers, it’s happening at different paces in different places. We will live in this hybrid environment for a while. We are the company that is best positioned to enable this transition over time.”
When the service launches March 4, it will be available in the US for $9.99. It will launch in Latin America and Canada that same day, with the Nordics and Australia later this year.
Another key to the Paramount+ strategy is news and sports. The service will offer every NFL game live, as well as college football, basketball, and soccer matches from leagues around the world. Executives say soccer is a valuable investment: It skews younger, is growing in popularity, and drove more subscriptions to Paramount+ predecessor CBS All Access than any sport besides the NFL, executives said.
CBS News will come in both local and national flavors, with linear and on-demand offerings. “60 Minutes” will get a made-for-streaming spinoff, (unsurprisingly, titled “60 Minutes+“) that’s geared toward millennials. Newsmagazine “48 Hours” will get a makeover as “Forty-Eight Hours,” which is meant to capitalize on the craze for true-crime content.
In June, a $4.99 ad-supported option will be available in the US that offers less sports programming and removes live local stations as well as the CBS broadcast live feed.
In this liminal time where theatrical is still in play but people increasingly favor streaming, ViacomCBS’ strategy marks a clear recognition that they need to aim younger. The audience for CBS News, the global, 24/7 news stream available on CBS All Access, skews 20 years younger than the network’s broadcast news audience. That feed will be a Paramount+ centerpiece.