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ViacomCBS Won't Claw Back Content

Jeff Baumgartner

The fusion of CBS and Viacom will factor in new and enhanced strategies involving direct-to-consumer (DTC) models and OTT video delivery, but don't expect the media giant to press ahead using a strategy that forgoes lucrative licensing deals with other distributors and OTT services.

That likewise means that ViacomCBS's OTT strategy will not come close to mirroring that of The Walt Disney Company, which will be withholding some of its best content for its own DTC services, including Disney+, a subscription streaming service set to launch on November 12 and feature fare from Disney's Marvel, Fox, Star Wars, National Geographic and Pixar franchises and properties.

ViacomCBS, the name that the newly combined entity will take on, "is not going to back away from third party licensing à la Disney," Michael Nathanson, analyst with MoffettNathanson, explained in a research note issued Monday based on a recent meeting with ViacomCBS's management team aimed at providing more clarity on their future intentions. "CBS will continue to sell the majority of their off-network shows to the highest global bidders."

Nathanson also allowed that ViacomCBS was rather "vague" about the coming changes or enhancements to its OTT strategy, leaving it all "open to interpretation."

Shedding some additional light on those plans, Nathanson said it's expected that ViacomCBS will come at OTT with three main strategies, underpinned by its ongoing plan to continue to sell content to third parties, which include or could include OTT services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu among others.

Of those three prongs, Showtime, the analyst explained, will continue on as the "premium OTT product" and add more originals content that drives value in the service.

CBS All Access, meanwhile, will remain a subscription service tailored for the "CBS super-fan" and a cord-cutter product, as it supports the CBS live broadcast feed, a VoD library and backed by some exclusive originals like Star Trek: Discovery (now three seasons in) and Star Trek: Picard, a series set to debut in early 2020. Nathanson said it doesn't appear that CBS will hold back syndication and put its "off-network shows exclusively on All Access."

Pluto TV, acquired by Viacom in early 2019 for $340 million, will give the combined company an extension into the world of free, ad-supported OTT and a streaming vessel that "relies on a deep library and non-monetized content."

ViacomCBS's OTT plans will also be forming alongside that of other media giants like WarnerMedia, which is developing HBO Max, and NBCUniversal, which is working on a direct-to-consumer product that will include ad-supported versions that will be distributed through corporate pay-TV cousins Comcast and Sky and sold as a standalone.

While the future of video is streaming along with a surge in direct-to-consumer business models, it is clear that this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition for the media giants as they continue to tailor and refine their OTT plans.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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