Why ViacomCBS Just Pulled an About-Face With New Streaming Plans

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“The streaming world will evolve similarly to the linear world,” CEO Bob Bakish says

Bob Bakish of ViacomCBS

ViacomCBS will join the streaming craze after all. On Thursday, the company laid out how it plans to beef up its CBS All Access operation into a larger player that can compete on the same field as Netflix or Disney+. CEO Bob Bakish described it as a “House of Brands”-type service, which is just a fancy way of saying you’ll be able to get your CBS, Paramount, Nickelodeon, BET and MTV all from one place. This comes after months of Bakish arguing why ViacomCBS was better off with five smaller streaming services, while at the same time serving as a content supplier to others. ViacomCBS will be both a rookie and one of the streaming game’s most veteran players. CBS All Access launched in 2014, well before the streaming gold rush began. Bakish said during the company’s earnings call on Thursday that between CBS All Access and its over-the-top version of Showtime, they have 11 million subscribers, with expectations that will rise to 16 million by the end of the year. That goes along with the 22 million users for PlutoTV, its free, ad-supported streaming service. ViacomCBS believes that the streaming space will begin to mimic the linear TV model (something we’ve already written about in this space), where you have free, “broad pay” and premium options. The next step is to build up CBS All Access into a content player on the level of a Disney+ or HBO Max. “Our going-forward approach to streaming is rooted in the belief that the streaming world will evolve similarly to the linear world,” Bakish said Thursday during the company’s earnings call. “By having robust offerings in each segment, we will also have the ability to migrate consumers across them through promotion and bundling.” Later in the call Bakish added: “We’re building from a position of strength. We understand what gets consumed in free and pay.” Just last year, Bakish sounded a much different tune when talking about ViacomCBS streaming. In the months after the merger was announced (but before it closed),  the company showed a willingness to make revenue-generating deals on its library of content rather than hoard those rights for its own internal streaming services. Nickelodeon set a multiyear output deal for films and TV series with Netflix, which also bought the rights from Paramount to develop a fourth “Beverly Hills Cop” film, with Eddie Murphy attached. Additionally, the company sold the exclusive streaming rights to Comedy Central’s “South Park” to HBO Max in a deal worth at least $500 million. “Demand for content from third parties is incredible. And the combination of our assets and capabilities — with the fact that some of our competitors are pulling back — makes this sector an enormous opportunity,” Bakish said during the company’s last earnings call in November. The idea was to pollinate CBS All Access with content from Viacom networks like MTV and Nickelodeon, while also beefing up its Showtime streaming service with Paramount films. ViacomCBS shifting its streaming strategy is just par for the course in this new world, where everyone is trying to wrap their head around a fast-changing industry. Jennifer Maas contributed to this story.