Paramount Global’s head of U.S. ad sales Jo Ann Ross is in a good place, and we don’t just mean New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the site of her annual upfront. With the ad-supported Paramount+ tier and frontrunner in the FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) Pluto TV under her purview, Ross has a pair of reasons to pop champagne at the party immediately following Wednesday’s slate presentation to advertisers. And those are just her streaming reasons.
“We were the first mover, and I think we have an advantage as the leader in that space,” Ross said of the company’s 2019 Pluto acquisition and the maturation of CBS All Access into Paramount+. We think so, too.
While Pluto’s standing as the leader in FAST is not really debatable, the same designation for Paramount+ in AVOD is about to get complicated as the space gets even more crowded. On Tuesday, the Disney upfront event only lightly updated media buyers and reporters on the months-ago announcement that Disney+ will add an ad-supported tier later this year. But that’s happening. Netflix is also expected to offer an option with commercials by the end of 2022.
Ross, who years ago (publicly) foresaw Netflix’s pending pivot to AVOD, said the mounting AVOD announcements are “only more validation to us.”
“OK, come to the party,” she said. “We’re ahead of the curve. It’s a great ecosystem to be in and we’ve stuck our flag in the ground early on, and we continue to put our money where our mouth is.”
If Ross doesn’t seem shook, it’s because she’s not. The streaming wars will be “all about the content” and “all about the I.P.,” Ross said, “and we have the broadest content.”
With news, sports, entertainment, kids programming, and a major movie studio all funneling in to Paramount+, that’s pretty accurate. One specific thing Ross famously doesn’t have, regrettably, is “Yellowstone.” At least, not on streaming. The smash-hit Western from Taylor Sheridan, linear television’s most-watched show (11.3 million total viewers per episode with seven days of delayed viewing, according to Nielsen), first airs on Paramount Network, which Ross does sell. But weirdly, NBCUniversal’s Peacock has the streaming rights for the O.G. series.
We asked Ross if she was “past the point of frustration,” a phrase introduced by us by gamely parroted back by her, over not having “Yellowstone” on Paramount+ as well. Just think about all those digital dollars inexplicably going to Comcast instead! (There are lots of examples of this, to be fair: NBCU initially made the same mistake itself with “The Office” on Netflix, and Ross’s “South Park” was licensed to HBO Max for years — and hundreds of millions of dollars.)
“I personally am past the point of frustration, because ‘Yellowstone’ is a hit across the board and now we have other shows coming out of the Taylor Sheridan universe that are enormously successful, including ‘1883’ and ‘Mayor of Kingstown,'” she responded. “I am thrilled that we are part of that universe with Taylor, and there’s more to come.”
Among that “more to come” is the previously announced “1883” sequel series “1932.” (Both of those are “Yellowstone” sequel series.) Paramount is “going to continue to expand” on the sprawling Sheridan landscape (make your own obvious joke here about splitting the difference and getting a Dutton Family update in the 1970s or so) and are “positioned very, very well” there, Ross added. And she’s gong to sell them all.