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Deal Pushes ViacomCBS Past Netflix in Programming Spend

Jeff Baumgartner

With scale being the primary driver of the proposed CBS-Viacom deal, one area that will undoubtedly scale up at the combined company is programming spend. And that spending level will play a big part in fueling the desire of ViacomCBS to ratchet up its direct-to-consumer video streaming strategy and position it to compete with a growing mix of well-heeled, competitive OTT-delivered services.

In an analysis of yesterday's merger announcement, MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson surmised today in a research note that the deal indicates $13 billion in content spending, amortizing to about $11 billion in programming costs ($1.9 billion from film, $1.7 billion devoted to sports, and the rest for TV, including OTT).

That, he said, puts the new company in fourth place, behind Disney, Comcast/NBCU and AT&T/WarnerMedia, and enables it to edge past Netflix.

Hey, Big Spender!
The new formation of media giants will keep some of the old guard  ahead of newer streaming entrants with respect to programming spend.
The new formation of media giants will keep some of the old guard ahead of newer streaming entrants with respect to programming spend.

That spending level, teamed with a massive content catalog and the shows and movies in the production queue today, should position ViacomCBS to keep up with those rivals as consumers continue to gravitate to streaming services.

"We clearly have scale in content," Bob Bakish, who will run ViacomCBS, said on CNBC in this interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin. "There's no question the companies are clearly stronger together than they are independently."

CNBC also speculated that the new company might also next attempt to bulk up even more and go after another media giant or premium services, such as Discovery Communications, Starz or Sony.

Nathanson sees some "striking similarities" between the new ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal given their focus on affiliate fees and advertising. ViacomCBS will be looking to improve in those under-performing areas.

"While building out DTC platforms takes both time and money to prove, we think the biggest near-term opportunity is to reclaim the lost economics from the foolish decision to separate these assets out," the analyst explained.

He also sees the deal helping Viacom with lagging pay-TV distribution. Viacom, he noted, "has not been able to gain wide carriage on key MVPDs, which should be fixed as new agreements become due."

And while accelerating OTT and direct-to-consumer activities is a focus for the combined company, it also represents a risk. Nathanson wonders if ViacomCBS, like Disney, will have to claw back content and forgo important licensing revenues to execute on its DTC initiatives.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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