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ViacomCBS Looks to Lock Up Content Within Paramount+, Pluto TV, Showtime

Ben Bowman

Paramount+ suffered an early stumble out of the gate after its rebrand from CBS All Access. Inexplicably, ViacomCBS allowed some of its premier franchises to appear elsewhere - older seasons of “Yellowstone” are on Peacock “South Park” is on HBO Max, “Star Trek: Discovery” was on Netflix in some markets, and the “Mission: Impossible” franchise bounced from streaming service to streaming service.

But moving forward, you should expect ViacomCBS to take a page from Disney’s book. Their content will stay within their ecosystem. That means content produced by CBS, Viacom (channels like Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central), and Paramount will live on Paramount+, Pluto TV, or Showtime.

Speaking to CNBC, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said their days a streaming arms dealer are over. “(Pre-merger of Viacom and CBS) we didn’t have a path to a scale pay offering. What you’ve seen us do since (the merger) is (to) begin the transition of pointing our franchises to our owned-and-operated properties,” Bakish said. “So our go-forward strategy is very heavily pointed to our owned and operated properties. We do have a tail to that because we have a bunch of deals out there. They’re pre-dated, but there’s a shift in our operation as we look to pursue what we believe is a very meaningful opportunity in the streaming space for ViacomCBS.”

To bulk up the content on Paramount+, ViacomCBS is opening its wallet. “In terms of our overall streaming business, what we’ve said before is that we are increasing streaming content investment. It will over double this year, ‘21 versus ‘20.” As each of these streaming services build higher and higher walls, they will need content to keep users engaged. That content isn’t cheap. Disney is planning a jaw-dropping $33 billion spend next year, with much of that aimed at Disney+ and Hulu.

This continues a trend we’ve seen for a few years as studios silo their entertainment within their own streaming services. NBCUniversal is giving itself first dibs on streaming rights for its movies via Peacock, leasing them out to other services after a first run. Netflix and Disney only produce content for their own services now. Only a few true “arms dealers” remain: Sony and Lionsgate. Those studios are happy to lease their content to the highest bidder, though it’s possible Lionsgate could retreat within its own streaming ecosystem if it goes through with a planned spinoff of STARZ.

Pluto Power

Bakish also noted the huge benefit of having an all-star FAST platform. “Pluto domestic is profitable. And in fact, at approaching broadcast margins, so there is clearly a path to profitability in streaming,” Bakish said.

While many have predicted that services like Netflix will hasten the demise of cable, the real threat comes from these free platforms. If you use TV for “background noise,” a service like Pluto TV (linear) or Tubi (on demand) is more than up to the task. While the news and sports offerings aren’t quite up to par with cable, there are enough reruns, game shows, and general entertainment programs to fit the bill.

It will be interesting to see if ViacomCBS spends to create truly original programming for its free platform or whether its primary content spend will be on archival material, but Pluto TV viewers end up winning either way.

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