ViacomCBS Enters Streaming Wars With $5 Billion Bet on Paramount

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ViacomCBS Bets $5 Billion That Paramount+ Can Compete With Disney and Warner

“They’re definitely late in the game, but by no means are they out of it,” analyst Jeff Bock says

ViacomCBS is betting $5 billion that the Paramount name carries the same weight as a Disney or even an HBO.

In unveiling its Paramount+ streaming service, which will be refashioned out of the ashes of CBS All Access, ViacomCBS joins an overcrowded streaming field. Paramount+ joins HBO Max and Disney+ in relying on valuable IP and film exclusives to get consumers to fork over a monthly fee. But given that the streaming space has seen five new launches (and one casualty) in the past 15 months, Paramount+ will have a greater mountain to climb than its signature logo to compete in an extremely crowded space.

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“They’re definitely late in the game, but by no means are they out of it. Hey, at least they’re ahead of Sony and Lionsgate, right?” Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told TheWrap. “It will always be about the content. If they can continue to draw audiences, especially with ‘Star Trek’ and ‘SpongeBob,’ they have some valuable IP.”

Outside of “Star Trek,” it’s fair to wonder if Paramount+ has anything approaching the level of a Disney’s Marvel Studios or WarnerMedia’s “Game of Thrones.” But that won’t stop Paramount+ from dumping everything it can from the ViacomCBS vault into its new service.

Paramount+ will feature reboots/revivals/sequels/prequels of classic MTV and Comedy Central series like “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Reno 911” and a “Beavis and Butt-Head” movie. Kelsey Grammer is returning for a “Frasier” reboot, the latest classic TV series to get a second life on streaming. That long-gestating “Halo” project based on the popular video game is moving over from Showtime. The studio’s library of classic films will be turned into new streaming series, with adaptations of “Love Story,” “The Italian Job,” “Fatal Attraction” and “The Parallax View” all set to join previously announced series inspired by “Flashdance,” “Grease” and “The Godfather.”

Paramount+ will also get major Paramount films like “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Mission: Impossible 7” for an exclusive run 45 days after their theatrical releases, in the latest link up between big-screen movies and streaming.

“Inside Amy Schumer” is among the many TV series getting a revival on Paramount+

Paramount+ is planning 50 originals over the next two years, with 35 of them coming in 2021. ViacomCBS is increasing its content spend from $1 billion in 2020 to more than $5 billion by 2024. By comparison, Disney+, which already boasts six different Marvel Studios projects this year alone, aims to produce 100-plus original titles annually. Netflix, which has had an eight-year head start on the streaming front, will premiere more than 70 films alone in 2021.

The streamer is also playing catch-up in terms of subscribers: At the end of 2020, ViacomCBS had just over 19 million subscribers between Showtime and CBS All Access. Disney, which had arguably the greatest debut year for a streaming service, rocketed past 90 million subscribers at the end of 2020. WarnerMedia has around 61 million subscribers globally between HBO and HBO Max. And they all trail the mighty Netflix, which boasts more than 200 million paying customers.

With next Thursday’s launch of Paramount+, the company expects to come between 65 and 75 million globally by 2024. Paramount+ is launching in a few international markets on March 4 with more to come as the year progresses. ViacomCBS expects that to lead to $7 billion in streaming revenue.

Paramount+ is a bit of an oddity in the streaming space. It’s actually one of the oldest streaming services since CBS All Access launched back in 2014, right as Netflix was beginning its ascent to the top of the entertainment landscape. But it was mostly a space for CBS fans to find the channel and its programming online without having to subscribe to a pay-TV package. Then Netflix became Netflix, and Hulu and Amazon followed suit. That was followed by the rapid decline of subscribers to the legacy TV bundle, coupled with Disney, Apple, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia all launching their own streaming services, along with restructuring their businesses to prioritize that over everything else.

When Viacom and CBS re-merged at the end of 2019, CEO Bob Bakish initially said the company would avoid pooling all its resources together into one, big streaming service. At the time, Bakish argued the company was better positioned as a content supplier with a few smaller streaming services that didn’t warrant a massive financial investment. A few months later the company reversed course.

During Wednesday’s presentation, Bakish noted that Paramount had a track record of producing streaming hits — just for other services like Netflix’s “Emily in Paris” and Amazon’s “Jack Ryan.” The company has continued to license out programming to other streamers like Peacock with “Yellowstone” and HBO Max with “South Park.” The studio’s upcoming sequel to “Coming to America” will debut next Friday, one day after the launch of Paramount+, on rival Amazon Prime Video.

Still, Bakish thinks the company has kept enough valuable IP for themselves. “We’ve long been in the content licensing business. But as we’ve scaled our streaming trajectory, particularly on the pay side, what you’ve seen us do is lean more towards the streaming site, particularly when it comes towards franchises and IP,” he said Wednesday. “And if you watch what we presented today, you see franchise originals, really, across the board in all the genres that we’re bringing to Paramount+. We believe that’s critical to attracting subscribers.”

Beatrice Verhoeven contributed to this story.

Tim Baysinger