ViacomCBS, Comcast Strike New Carriage Deal

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Bob Bakish

The agreement comes as pay TV distributors are under pressure to pay higher retransmission and affiliate fees.

ViacomCBS and Comcast have reached a new carriage deal.

Financial terms of the new deal were not disclosed, but going into the negotiations, the newly combined Viacom and CBS entity made no secret it sought a big rise in retrans and affiliate fees, including from top cable operator Comcast.

ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish in a November 2019 analyst call pointed to his recombined media group controlling around 22 percent of primetime TV viewing in the U.S. market via CBS and Viacom's cable assets. At the same time, ViacomCBS was only getting around 11 percent of affiliate fees.

"This integration is not just about cost savings. It's about extracting more value from our content.... We believe that represents a significant going-forward opportunity, and we will have a combined cross-company affiliate sales force going after that," Bakish insisted.

The new Comcast deal Includes retransmission consent for 23 CBS-owned stations in 15 markets, as well as Showtime, CBS Sports Network, Smithsonian Channel and Pop TV to play on Comcast platforms.

The new agreement will also see Comcast work with ViacomCBS to launch the CBS All Access app and carry CBS All Access on its Xfinity X1 and Flex platforms later this year. And Comcast will stream the CBS TV network and the CBS Sports network for the first time.

The deal also comes as pay TV distributors are under pressure to pay higher retransmission and affiliate fees, leading in turn to price hikes for subscribers amid stepped-up competition from streaming platforms and other digital alternatives.

Retrans fees are paid by pay TV distributors to broadcasters for permission to carry their local stations' signals.

“We are very pleased to have reached this agreement to continue to bring CBS’ industry-leading entertainment, sports and news content from the CBS Television Network, Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, Pop TV and CBS Sports Network to millions of Xfinity customers, and delighted to offer these customers access via X1 and Flex to CBS All Access for the first time,” said Ray Hopkins, president, U.S. networks distribution at ViacomCBS.

"We look forward to discussing the entire ViacomCBS portfolio with Comcast in the future," he added, underlining the scale of the new agreement and the end of the latest renewal seeing all legacy CBS and Viacom networks on the same timetable for the next round of negotiations.

"ViacomCBS has been a great partner, and we are very pleased to have reached this agreement to provide Xfinity X1 and Flex customers with more access to their content across multiple platforms,” added Rebecca Heap, senior vp video and entertainment at Comcast Cable.

The renewed deal also includes TV Everywhere coverage for CBS Television Network and CBS Sports Network programming for Xfinity customers.

"We believe ViacomCBS achieved two strategic goals with this renewal," Guggenheim analyst Michael Morris said. "First, resetting pricing for retransmission consent from a Comcast contract that was originally established in 2010; and second, we believe this helps align the renewal cycle for legacy Viacom and CBS assets that had historically been negotiated independently."

Georg Szalai in London contributed to this report.