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ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish on Wednesday shed some more light on the reasoning behind the recent Paramount Pictures executive reshuffle and touted the conglomerate’s multi-faceted movie release strategy.
The change was “about creating a studio for the future,” he told the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. “The changes will position Paramount to lean more into franchises and more into streaming, while maintaining its extraordinary theatrical legacy,” as exemplified by a “fantastic” 2022 slate.
The conglomerate recently replaced Paramount Pictures boss Jim Gianopulos, whom Bakish lauded for stabilizing and rebuilding the studio, with Nickelodeon chief Brian Robbins as the studio’s new chairman and CEO in what was widely seen as a refocusing on streaming, particularly Paramount+, championed by ViacomCBS chair Shari Redstone.
Calling Robbins a “franchise builder” and “collaborator” who values theatrical and understands the multi-platform world and “understands how social media drives demand,” Bakish said his new role will also ensure he has the resources to “create incremental value.”
David Nevins’ expanded TV role also will allow the company to benefit from the experience and taste of an “extremely strong creative executive,” he said.
Asked about ViacomCBS’ film release strategy, he said the company was spending a lot of time testing different models. He lauded the success of Paw Patrol: The Movie as the firm’s first day-and-date release in cinemas and on streaming. “We think that is actually a very good model for kids and family films, particularly in this COVID-impacted time, because it gives consumers optionality to view product where they feel the most comfortable.”
The result: the film did very well theatrically and was a “significant driver” for Paramount+ where it is one of most-watched originals to-date, the CEO said. Box office outperformed company assumptions the for green light that had been based on a traditional cinema release, he said.
Meanwhile, exclusive streaming releases make sense for lower-budget films, while for big tentpoles “we do like the fast-follow theatrical-to-pay 1 strategy of 45 days,” Bakish said, calling that the “sweet spot” to drive box office and streaming growth, as was the case with A Quiet Place Part II.
Concluded Bakish: ViacomCBS is using various release strategies “designed to maximize the value of a film across this now broader eco-system, but as we do that, theatrical definitely still matters.”
Asked about ViacomCBS’ subscription streaming strategy, Bakish said, “we are going to increasingly use Paramount+ to distribute our entertainment content globally.” He lauded it for offering a diverse content slate, including films, dramas, unscripted and sports content, among other things. Unscripted is “starting to kick in” for the streamer, he said, noting that he felt that fact is currently underestimated outside the company.
ViacomCBS said in early August that it added about 6.5 million global streaming subscribers in its second quarter, driven by the Paramount+ service, which debuted such originals as iCarly and Paramount movie Infinite during the period, to reach more than 42 million global paid streaming users as of the end of June.
ViacomCBS unveiled on Tuesday that it was launching a streaming bundle that includes Paramount+ and Showtime at two different price points: a $9.99 plan that includes Paramount+’s ad-supported tier, and a $12.99 tier that includes the premium ad-free tier. Without the bundle discount, the two services would cost $16 and $21, respectively. The company previously offered a bundle of CBS All Access and Showtime through Apple for $9.99, but ended that offer earlier this year ahead of the rebrand and expansion of CBS All Access as Paramount+.
Since the May announcement of the Discovery-WarnerMedia mega-merger, Wall Street has wondered if ViacomCBS, led by Bakish and chair Shari Redstone, and NBCUniversal and Sky owner Comcast, led by chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who appeared at the Goldman conference earlier in the day, would look for deals of their own to boost their scale. While some have even suggested an outright merger of the two, others argue it would face regulatory hurdles. But the companies recently struck an agreement for a new European streaming joint venture to launch a combined service, dubbed SkyShowtime, in more than 20 markets.
That followed another deal between ViacomCBS Networks International and Sky to launch Paramount+ on Sky platforms in the U.K., Ireland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria in 2022. Management said that on the agreement would be a meaningful subscriber catalyst, with Chopra calling it a “capital-efficient” way to grow reach.
ViacomCBS was created in December 2019 via the recombination of Viacom and CBS Corp. In wrapping up his appearance on Wednesday, Bakish said the company had “really strong momentum.”
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