Today ViacomCBS reported earnings for the third quarter of the year, topping market expectations. And during an investors conference call, CEO Bob Bakish talked about how streaming fueled the growth and leading towards a new focus for the media company moving forward. He specifically talked about how Star Trek has been and will be a part ViacomCBS streaming, including the upcoming rebranding of CBS All Access as Paramount+.
Star Trek helping fuel growth for ViacomCBS
Last year CBS raised their end of 2020 target to 18 million subscribers across their subscription streaming services (CBS All Access and Showtime combined). During today’s call, Baksih revealed they are ahead of schedule on that goal, and mentioned how Star Trek helped fuel this quarter’s growth:
We ended the quarter with 17.9 million domestic subscribers, up 72% year-on-year, which basically puts us just under the year-end [target]… And both, CBS All Access and Showtime [streaming], each had robust consumption growth in signups. Starting with All Access, the service benefited from strong demand for sports, like UEFA and the NFL, originals like Star Trek: Lower Decks, and CBS network content like Big Brother and Love Island, as well as from the 3,500 library episodes added from Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central, MTV and Smithsonian. Plus, the almost 200 films from Paramount that we added in late July, as part of our preview launch. CBS All Access is now in the early stages of benefiting from the power of the combined company.
Bakish also talked up their free streaming service Pluto which is now benefiting from the Viacom/CBS merger, including the launch of a Star Trek channel in July:
Pluto TV continues to build on its position as the number one FAST, free ad-supported streaming television service in the United States. In the quarter, Pluto TV’s domestic [monthly users] grew 57% to 28.4 million, and globally grew to nearly 36 million… In fact, in the U.S., Pluto now has well over 100,000 hours of compelling content available to consumers. We recently added nine ViacomCBS channels, including Star Trek, Bellator, CBSN, Dallas, and CSI.
The official earnings release also used Star Trek branding to show the growth of streaming.
Star Trek is “working well” for All Access (soon to be Paramount+)
During the call, ViacomCBS CFO Naveen Choopra said the media company expects “to support this momentum by increasing our investments in streaming.” And Bob Bakish made clear that the plan to rebrand and relaunch All Access is on track:
[Paramount+] is on track to debut in early 2021. As you know, Paramount+ will combine live sports, breaking news and a mountain of entertainment, including exclusive original content, plus a diverse and deep library of shows and movies, spanning all programming genres from ViacomCBS’ leading brands in one unified service… As we get into ‘21, we see substantial incremental growth ahead. Our preview launch at the end of July served as a proof-of-concept, and that gives us the confidence to lean into streaming even more. We’re executing a plan which will bring more content, more marketing and more distribution to the table.
In response to a question from a Wall Street analyst asking about the content strategy for Paramount+ (specifically including Star Trek), Bakish talked broadly about the plan and how Star Trek is an important part of it:
We’re absolutely focused on creating a must-watch service in Paramount+. And we do believe that our positioning of live sports, breaking news and a mountain of entertainment is differentiated and compelling. Now, as part of that, there’s no question that franchises will be key to the success of Paramount+. And related to that, our strategy is to have new original variants of franchises to serve as subscription drivers. Those originals… will be linked to larger library assets that drive subscriber engagement. So, we’re very focused on this strategy. And I’d also note that one of our competitors has clearly demonstrated the value of that approach. So, Star Trek, you mentioned, arguably the original proof-of-concept for CBS All access. There are now multiple variants of it on All Access, it works well for us.
It’s also worth noting that the Star Trek Universe had a prominent place on the cover of today’s earnings presentation.
Committed to licensing
One of the recent trends in streaming is for the big media companies to pull back licenses to keep all their own content on their own platforms like WarnerMedia has done with Friends on HBO Max or NBC Universal has done with The Office on Peacock. However, ViacomCBS has continued to license content to third parties like South Park to HBO Max or the just-announced deal for The Chappelle Show to multiple streaming platforms including Netflix. When asked about how ViacomCBS sees licensing, Bakish made it clear they are not currently planning on keeping everything to themselves:
In terms of the content licensing business, we have a tremendous asset base in content, both from a library — film library of 4,000 titles, TV library of 140,000 episodes, current series production of 750 series globally. We can’t keep all that for our self. It doesn’t make sense. It’s too much… I’d also say that beyond the financial value of licensing, it has strategic value. We can and do use third-party platforms to extend and expand audience, and that also provides downstream benefits to our owned and operated platforms. That could be about early seasons on a third-party platform, driving demand for new seasons or spin-offs on ours, could also be about broader revenues like consumer products.
While the new Star Trek original series are exclusives to All Access in the USA (and Netflix overseas), ViacomCBS licenses the classic Star Trek shows to multiple streaming players both in the USA and around the world. Based on what the CEO said, it doesn’t appear that even after the launch of Paramount+ there is any plan to pull back all content to their own streaming platforms.
No news on Paramount films
Regarding Paramount Pictures there was little discussion about feature films during the call, except to note that due to the pandemic theater revenue was “immaterial,” however the company has mitigated that by releasing some films to video on demand and/or streaming platforms. There was no discussion on any plans for theatrical releases in 2021 and beyond, and so no updates on plans for the Star Trek film franchise, which is reported to be a priority for the new head of motion pictures for the studio.
Keep up with all the Star Trek Universe news and analysis at TrekMovie.com.