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Why did ViacomCBS shake up the leadership at its Paramount Pictures division this week? According to CFO Naveen Chopra, the move is about making sure the company can adapt to a rapidly changing entertainment environment.
Speaking at a Bank of America conference Tuesday, Chopra heaped praise on outgoing Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos, saying that he “leaves some very big shoes to fill.” However, he added that new Paramount chief Brian Robbins “is really the perfect person to take the reins from here.”
“He is definitely someone who brings incredible creative and strategic insights to the business,” Chopra said. “He is a very passionate storyteller, and understands the importance of leveraging our franchises, as well as building new franchises.”
And franchises are a critical part of ViacomCBS’ strategy, with Chopra calling out iCarly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mission Impossible and others during his conversation, noting that movies in particular “are critical to developing franchises.”
“I think he understands the perspectives of all of our constituents in the filmmaking industry,” Chopra says. “We are undergoing a lot of change, and I think Brian understands that in order to successfully navigate that change, you have to figure how to leverage the traditional parts of the business, including theatrical distribution, as well as newer parts of the business like streaming and changes in consumer behavior.”
To that end, ViacomCBS has experimented with its theatrical distribution strategy, releasing films like Paw Patrol in theaters and on Paramount+ at the same time, while giving other films like A Quiet Place Part II exclusive theatrical windows. For the really big franchise films however, like Mission Impossible and the upcoming Top Gun sequel, Paramount punted until 2022.
“For the big releases, a Mission Impossible, a Top Gun, those are pandemic-driven decisions,” Chopra says. “The fact is the theatrical environment is very dynamic and very different in different parts of the world, and we decided that in order to maximize the value of those assets, it just makes sense to wait.”
Still, the company’s focus is on streaming, with Chopra saying that this year “streaming content expense will be more than double what it was in 2020.”
ViacomCBS spent about $15 billion in total on content in 2020. Some of that spend is on content that runs on both linear and streaming platforms (like the NFL) and some linear spend will instead be spent on streaming going forward.
“We will continue to shift assets from non-core legacy things to assets that can help us in streaming, including acquisitions that we think can help us build our presence in streaming,” Chopra added.
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