CBS is planning an improved streaming service after squandering its head start with All Access

by Amar More
CBS is planning an improved streaming service after squandering its head start with All Access

ViacomCBS is launching a new streaming service that will hopefully do more for the recently merged company than the current form of CBS All Access has done in its six-year run.

The new service will build upon CBS All Access (which costs $5.99 per month with ads or $9.99 a month without) by offering an assortment of Viacom networks to customers. The company announced its expansive approach to streaming, which ViacomCBS referred to in a press release as “House of Brands.” Part of the company’s goals to “accelerate” its presence in the streaming space is to “take a differentiated approach that builds on ViacomCBS’ unique foundation in streaming, plays to its strengths.” This includes offering live sports and news, similar to what NBCUniversal is doing with Peacock.

“New broad pay ‘House of Brands’ product will expand CBS All Access by adding the company’s scaled assets in film and TV, including world-renowned brands, and reaffirm and expand the value of entertainment, news and sports — through on-demand and live experiences — for audiences around the world,” a press release reads.

The goal is to complement services such as Pluto TV (free) and Showtime’s premium offerings by “adding a broad pay offering, built on the foundation of CBS All Access.” Details are still extremely thin, including how much the different tiers will cost. CEO Bob Bakish didn’t give many new details, but said the goal is to soft launch the evolved product later this year.

The new service is only a possibility now, thanks to the merger between CBS and Viacom. Networks and studios like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Pictures didn’t fully belong to CBS prior to the network and Viacom rejoining last year. The new service will also give subscribers access to Pluto TV, a free ad-supported virtual TV service Viacom purchased before the CBS merger that offers customers programming from specialized channels. Most notably, Pluto offers access to limited versions of NBC News, Spike TV, MTV, The Movie Channel, CBS News, and CNN.

CBS was one of the earliest entrants in the streaming wars. The company launched All Access in October 2014 — seven years after Netflix launched its streaming service and five years before Disney, Apple, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia got into the game. While CBS was early, All Access never became the streaming juggernaut the company hoped it would. Bakish announced that streaming, which also includes digital video, earned $1.6 billion in revenue, which is up 60 percent year over year. The company’s streaming services have more than 11 million domestic subscribers (between CBS All Access and Showtime), which is up 56 percent year over year. Bakish said CBS All Access and Showtime are set to hit 16 million subscribers by year’s end.

Yet, while 11 million isn’t anything to scoff at, CBS All Access and Showtime trail Disney Plus’ 28 million subscribers, which the company amassed within just the first three months of its launch. All Access is still short of Hulu’s 30 million subscribers and a far cry from Netflix’s 60 million subscribers in the US. Recently, however, the company did announce that it broke records for All Access sign-ups, which were driven by the success of Picard, its new Star Trek series, and the Grammys telecast.

At the time, CBS All Access’ slower growth wasn’t as much of a concern since the streaming competition came mostly from Netflix. Now, however, with Disney Plus picking up speed and incoming competition from both NBCUniversal (Peacock) and WarnerMedia (HBO Max) later this spring, ViacomCBS knows it needs to go head-to-head with competitors both in the digital and linear spaces.

“The combined company will have the best of both worlds, premium US programming that seamlessly travels across borders and hundreds of thousands of hours of locally produced international programming, all available with the click of a button,” former acting CBS CEO Joe Ianniello told investors during a call in August 2019.

Prior to Viacom and CBS merging, Viacom’s strategy in the streaming wars was to sell off a number of its key programming in standalone streaming packages. Nickelodeon produced NickSplat, which cost subscribers $6.99 a month, and BET Plus, which featured an array of BET classics and new originals, for $9.99 a month. Many of these channels were available through other platforms, including Amazon Channels, where they could be purchased as add-ons to Prime subscriptions.

Unlike its competitors, ViacomCBS will not use the new streaming service to offer total exclusivity on its series and movies. It will continue licensing. Disney did the opposite with its films in the lead-up to Disney Plus’ launch, and WarnerMedia is in the process of bringing all of its films, including Warner Bros. titles, over to HBO Max. NBCUniversal is set to make its biggest film franchises, including The Fast and the Furious, exclusive to Peacock, too.

Some franchises will be shared, and others licensed. Netflix and ViacomCBS worked out a deal for new titles, including a new SpongeBob SquarePants show. Baskish noted that Netflix is a better option for a Spongebob spinoff, as there’s a bigger kids market there, but considers these types of moves “rentals.” The IP reverts back to ViacomCBS in the long run, but licensing will help drive revenue for the company.

Comedy Central’s South Park is a perfect example. South Park will also stream on HBO Max — a deal that reportedly netted Viacom north of $500 million. It’s unclear how the company decides what to license out and what to keep, but licensing ensures there’s additional revenue coming in while the company attempts to bring new subscribers over to its new streaming service.

Update February 20th, 8:50AM ET: The story has been updated to include details from ViacomCBS’ earnings call with investors.

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