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ViacomCBS Reaches 36 Million Global Streaming Subscribers, Nears 50 Million Global Pluto TV Monthly Actives

Derek Walborn

ViacomCBS announced the company now has 36 million global streaming subscribers including Paramount+ and Showtime as of Q1 2021, up 6 million on the quarter. They didn’t disclose domestic subscribers, which was 19.2 million as of the end of 2020.

This was the company’s first subscriber update since the rebranding CBS All Access to Paramount+ in March. The company says streaming subscription revenue is up 69% year-over-year.

Their free streaming service, Pluto TV, has reached 50 million monthly active users globally at the end of Q1 2021, from 43 million last quarter. The company didn’t disclose domestic monthly actives, but said there was growth domestically as well. At the end of 2020, Pluto TV has reached 30.1 million monthly active users in the U.S.

In March, Paramount+ had its best month ever in signups and monthly watch time per active subscriber increased 17% year-over-year. For Paramount+, much of the growth comes from the demand for sports content, including the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, UEFA Champions League, along with Oprah with Meghan and Harry and The Grammy Awards.

Paramount+ launched on March 4th of this year to lukewarm reviews. People seemed unimpressed with the service’s lack of compelling content, stubborn user interface, and more than likely a good dose of new-streaming-platform-fatigue.

Undeterred, ViacomCBS is looking to find ways to generate interest with a free, ad-supported version via Pluto TV in the form of Paramount+ Picks. With limited selections from classics like “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Big Brother,” Paramount+ Picks is more of a “try before you buy” option for those interested in checking out what the full service might have in store.

ViacomCBS also offers more mature, premium offerings with its SHOWTIME and BET+ streaming platforms. According to ViacomCBS, “SHOWTIME OTT delivered its best quarter ever in sign-ups, streams and hours watched, driven by originals, including Your Honor and Shameless, as well as theatricals.”

While the company is obviously not at a loss for content, their reluctance to offer customers the option to bundle their services has left some scratching their heads. The official justification for not combining the new Paramount+ with Showtime is due to the latter having “edgier, more risk-taking” content compared to the former, according to ViacomCBS CEO Tom Bakish. In the US, at least, the two will remain separate services for the foreseeable future.

International audiences, however, might get to see Showtime included with their Paramount+ bundles. “Obviously at the same time, internationally where we don’t have a Showtime business, it’s a bit simpler,” Bakish said. “We’re going to run an aggregate product and we’ll see how that goes.”

It begs the question as to why ViacomCBS seems to be setting up a business model in which it competes with itself for viewership. To the cynical eye, it would appear that ViacomCBS is deliberately starving Showtime for both capital and content in order to focus their efforts on Paramount+, dooming their more adult-oriented platform to flounder even as President of streaming Tom Ryan promises that bundled options are forthcoming. According to Ryan, they have plans to “integrate the services, so that you can consume them all in one place.”

The company believes it knows what works with audiences. Ryan says, “people don’t want to have to do all of the work to find something entertaining, and that insight has served us. People love to be programmed to. Curation, or discovery, is something that we’re very serious about.”

Time will tell if their strategy allows multiple services to thrive with separate audiences or if they get strangled by one another’s roots. The recent bumping of some top-tier Tom Cruise-led exclusive releases like “Top Gun: Maverick” and the next installment of the “Mission: Impossible” into later this year and 2022 might leave Paramount+ gasping for air.

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