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Bob Bakish Talks Streaming Strategy at APOS 2020


Bob Bakish, the president and CEO of ViacomCBS, discussed the company’s approach to expanding its streaming businesses, free and pay, in conversation with Media Partners Asia’s Vivek Couto on day one of the APOS 2020 Virtual Series.

Studios, streaming and networks are the pillars of ViacomCBS’s business, and all are interrelated, Bakish said. The content-production businesses, in the U.S. and internationally, operating across multiple demographics and genres, serve ViacomCBS’s own platforms as well as third parties. The networks, which are monetized across distribution, advertising and content licensing, also serve as promotional platforms “to build other businesses, including streaming,” Bakish said. “OTT streaming is an incredible growth and value creation opportunity for ViacomCBS. We are focused on creating a broad video experience, spanning not only entertainment but also news and sports.”

The company is on track to be the global leader in freemium streaming, Bakish said. “In free we’ll continue to build on Pluto TV, which is already the number one free television streaming service in the U.S. We’re also rapidly expanding Pluto TV, first in Europe, now we’re in Latin America, and that opens up a whole set of opportunities, including mobile.”

The pay services at ViacomCBS are “anchored by CBS All Access,” Bakish said, which is being transformed into a “broad, super service, through the addition of content from the Viacom flagship brands, Paramount and Smithsonian.” Also in the SVOD portfolio at ViacomCBS are Showtime OTT, Noggin and BET+. “Our pay services in 2020 have seen record growth in all our key metrics, whether that’s subscribers, consumption or engagement. Q1 was our strongest streaming quarter ever. We saw domestic pay subs grow about 50 percent.”

Studios, streaming and networks deliver a “powerful, synergistic combination, and we’re just getting going on unlocking the value.”

Bakish noted that uniting Viacom and CBS Corporation “really did up our game dramatically. We look at it both through our libraries and new production capacity as having enough must-watch content to supply both our own platforms and third parties. We’re in the licensing business and we’re in the networks and streaming business. In streaming, we’re bringing tremendous content resources to bear with our strategy. Today in the U.S., on our owned and operated services across free and pay, we have over 120,000 hours of content. That is more than anyone else in the industry, bar none. In that 120,000 hours there’s a tremendous quantity of blockbuster IP, be it film IP, series IP. We have hits across every genre and every demographic.”

The company’s content libraries also serve as platforms to spin out new IP, Bakish said. “You’ve seen us do that on our linear networks, you’ll see us do that in streaming.”

With Pluto and CBS All Access, Bakish said, “We have an ecosystem that crosses free and pay. There are diverse consumer needs out there; we think there are synergies in the combination. We’re at the first stage of unlocking that.”

Pluto now has over 100,000 hours of unique content, Bakish said. “We just added over 40 blockbuster ViacomCBS franchises like Star Trek: The Next Generation, South Park, CSI and Survivor.” The platform has also expanded its reach via new partnerships with the likes of Verizon and TiVo. “Pluto makes us an even more important supplier in this evolving ecosystem.”

International expansion is a priority for the service, with ViacomCBS “leaning into Latin America” following a rollout in Europe.

As for CBS All Access, Bakish said he believes consumers want “a broad range of choice in one place, including having access to news and sports. They may not buy a service for news but they’ll use it if it’s there. We are making a series of enhancements to that product as we speak. There will be a soft launch of the transformed service this summer. We’ve already added over 100 Paramount movies to it. The consumer reaction has been very strong. We’re shortly introducing a new user interface. We just announced our UEFA deal is starting in August and All Access will be the exclusive English-language streamer of all UEFA matches going forward. Over time we’ll add another 15,000 hours of content. That will lead to the launch of a fully rebranded service in 2021.”

Bakish also discussed the decision to put The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run exclusively on All Access in the U.S. after a short TVOD window. “That will create a lot of excitement. All Access will be the home for SpongeBob.”

On the integration front, the key, Bakish said, “is attracting consumers at every price point, using Pluto TV as a massive free gateway to our ecosystem.”

These steps, Bakish said, will lead to ViacomCBS “having a very material role in streaming. Just this week Goldman Sachs issued an analysts report that said, buy Disney and buy ViacomCBS, because they’ll be winners in streaming.”

The configuration of studios, streaming and networks is a “tremendous advantage” Bakish continued. “As we look at content investment, in a very disciplined and strategic way, we are focused on ensuring that every dollar we invest in content has the ability to benefit the whole company. We’re increasingly focused on the use of content on a cross-company basis, including looking at franchise management and associated windowing. We’re definitely prioritizing growth towards streaming because that’s the obvious opportunity area, but simultaneously we are in the business of supplying to third parties. So we do have to make decisions about what we license, really rent, to someone for a period versus keeping it for our own properties. Third-party platforms can be very powerful. We look at it strategically, financially and through the filter of partnerships. Strategically we look at a piece of IP and say, How can that piece of IP drive value creation and subscriber growth for our own ecosystem?” The SpongeBob movie, for example, “will be a subscriber acquisition vehicle” for CBS All Access. For other properties, a licensing deal may be more beneficial. “The third party might drive broader awareness. That could benefit a franchise in terms of introducing it to new fans, which might benefit other value in terms of consumer products, for example. Or it could benefit a spin-off we’re thinking of doing.”

He added, “We will not license critical mass of any of our key programming areas—kids, preschool, procedurals, unscripted—to any single player. We will selectively license, but we won’t allow any player to have a critical mass of our areas of strength.”

The company is increasingly working on co-exclusive deals, Bakish said, such as the recent pact with Peacock. “Yes, they have these series, but we have them for our platforms, too. That is also an important model, particularly for product that might retain subscribers and engage them when they’re there.”

Couto then moved the discussion to ViacomCBS’s international outlook. “The international markets got hit by the COVID pandemic earlier than the U.S. But writ large the dynamics are similar. You’re seeing escalating content consumption. You’re seeing softness in the ad market. And everyone is focused on costs. So in the short term, there’s a bit of headwind. It varies by market.”

On the Australia strategy in particular, where ViacomCBS owns Network 10, Bakish noted, “We have a very strong presence there. We have a set of broadcast networks and a portfolio of cable networks and some early SVOD product in the form of 10 All Access. We have a lot to work with. We just launched a new free-to-air channel, 10 Shake, that leverages a whole breadth of content from the ViacomCBS family in the free-to-air space. This is an opportunity to introduce more people to our IP; we believe we can monetize in the ad market and we believe it fits into this broader multiplatform strategy.”

On the international mobile strategy, especially AsiaPac, Bakish said, “I believe mobile network operators can generate significant incremental value from video by partnering with first-tier content companies like ViacomCBS. It’s a way to deal with churn, fight commoditization, differentiate platforms, and quite frankly serve your consumers with bespoke mobile content, including working with operators around content for 5G. We’re working with other telcos on loyalty programs and e-commerce, using video content, and we’re building a 5G innovation hub in the region focusing on AR and VR.”

Pluto, he added, “is a very powerful vehicle for mobile value creation, including value creation that will benefit operators,” citing the platform’s early success in LatAm. “The mix of consumption is very different,” compared with the U.S., Bakish said. “In LatAm, it is very mobile-led. Two-thirds of our Pluto monthly active users are coming through mobile. We’re seeing early signs that mobile consumption can be quite material.”

He concluded, “COVID is a bit of a headwind but we’re very focused playing through this and we are going to emerge stronger.”

About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on [email protected]


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