“We’re really ambitious and creative in our approach,” Jeff Shultz tells TheWrap
Paramount’s been an upstart in streaming, but its paid Paramount+ and free ad-supported service Pluto TV have seen outsized success against larger competitors. And one way it has been able to close the time gap have been its partnerships, which gets more eyes on its shows.
“We’re really ambitious and creative in our approach to partnerships, and ultimately we believe that partnerships can and should create new value for Paramount, for partners and ultimately for consumers,” Jeff Shultz, Paramount Streaming’s chief strategy officer and chief business development officer, as well as the former chief business officer for Pluto, told TheWrap.
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Recently, Paramount+ announced an exclusive partnership with Delta, which came about when the airline mentioned to the studio, a longtime partner for inflight entertainment, that it was boosting its internet speed to allow for streaming. Later this year, Delta frequent fliers will be able to access a free trial of the streamer’s premium level, giving the service additional access to some of the airline’s best customers.
This builds off of Paramount+’s earlier deal with Walmart, which bundled the retailer’s membership program, Walmart+, with the streaming service, giving Paramount access to the 150 million people who shop online or in-store at Walmart.
Shultz honed the partnership strategy at Pluto TV. In its early days, the FAST network partnered with TV platforms like Samsung, LG and even Amazon’s Fire TV to integrate the service directly into on-screen interfaces for easy access.
This interview has been edited for style and length.
Previously, [Paramount Streaming CEO] Tom Ryan told TheWrap that its streaming success can be attributed to the idea of leveraging the “whole household” with content offerings. How do the company’s new deals with Delta and Walmart factor into that vision?
The Paramount catalog — the content, the characters and franchises — has put us in a really interesting position to offer what Tom referred to as that “whole household” service or value proposition. That is unique: One company can bring scripted originals and reality and sports and news altogether to consumers in one offering. Then that strategy extends beyond Paramount+ because another unique attribute of ours is that we are involved in the free and paid streaming business — we have the leading free streaming service in Pluto TV and the fastest-growing paid streaming service in Paramount+.
If the first [part] is the breadth of the content offering and the second is the fact that we’re both a free and paid business and doing extraordinarily well in both of them, the third is our approach to partnerships. We’re really ambitious and creative in our approach to partnerships, and ultimately we believe that partnerships can and should create new value for Paramount, for partners and ultimately for consumers.
How do these partnerships bolster the Paramount brand and its consumer reach, and what are you looking for when making these deals?
When we’re considering partnerships, we prioritize three things. One is scale, and so that means really meaningful or market-leading reach. We prioritize fit, so this is identifying partners with truly complementary services or customer bases to the Paramount businesses. And then the third is differentiation, so unique partnerships that can create competitive advantage. Two great recent examples are in the form of Walmart+ and Delta, which are big, strategic partnerships, not traditional distribution deals.
What’s Paramount Streaming’s approach to distribution on Paramount+ and Pluto TV? What are you looking for when it comes to ensuring a title is able to reach as many people as possible, whether that’s an original or a third-party program?
Pluto TV has this third-party content that’s from hundreds of content partners, and we manage and grow that portfolio of content partners over time, essentially based on the performance within the product. It’s an incredibly powerful position to be in to have this massive global audience that’s not just generating revenue from the content but generating data and insights. And so Pluto TV essentially tells you what to program to its customers, which is a really great position for us to be in, and it guides us in partnerships and also guides us in how we use our first-party owned and operated Paramount content within Pluto.
Then that Pluto piece sits within a broader framework of how we leverage Paramount IP — existing and new projects — across all of the windows, that’s theatrical, it’s how content is leveraged on traditional television, both cable and broadcast, how it makes its way to SVOD and then ultimately makes its way to Paramount+ subscription business model and then ultimately makes its way to Pluto and the free business model. To a certain extent, it’s case-by-case but we do have frameworks that have proven to be very productive.
On the scripted originals side, there’s really interesting illustrations of how Paramount is doing things differently where “Yellowstone” is extraordinarily successful on traditional television and that’s its place for Paramount, on Paramount Network. Based on that, building on that, we’ve created the “Yellowstone” universe and that was initially “1883” and now “1923.” All this is possible in terms of coordinating between the various platforms because Bob Bakish has done an extraordinary job aligning the entire company around streaming as a key priority.
Specifically, how does Pluto TV fit within Paramount Streaming’s business strategy?
The roots of the incredibly fast growth of Pluto TV are also in partnerships. In the very early days of Pluto, we structured a business model, a new strategy, which was quite innovative — unprecedented at the time — to basically integrate your TV, which is a frictionless service; you turn it on like television, you don’t have to give us any money, you don’t have to register and you really don’t even have to decide what to watch. And that experience was so frictionless that we found that we could integrate it directly into the television interface. And so we did deals with Samsung, LG and Amazon with Fire TV, Google TV, and other devices, and it’s created a genuinely unique advantage. It kicked off a stage of hypergrowth for Pluto and now it’s a cornerstone of the Pluto TV business.
One of the reasons why I think Paramount has been so successful in growing through streaming partnerships is [that] we benefit from an integrated strategy and its development function. So mine is a unified [organization] where I have a strategy team, which is responsible for our global streaming strategy. And then I have a distribution and business development team, which is responsible for our global partnerships and growth. And that puts us in a position where the strategy team can analyze the market, identify opportunities for growth, work inside the company to drive alignment, help build business models, while their distribution and business development counterparts are fostering relationships throughout the industry, and then negotiate win-win deals.
Prior to becoming a TV reporter at TheWrap in 2022, Natalie served as a general entertainment news reporter. She has covered film, television, music and business beats for two years, beginning her career as an intern at Variety, where she continued to freelance as a TV features reporter. Since then, Natalie has been a Celebrity News Writer at BuzzFeed and contributed to such publications as Metacritic and Vox Media, where she was part of the company's inaugural Writers Workshop.