ViacomCBS has taken the wraps off an expanded version of CBS All Access, described as a “preview” of a rebranding of the streaming service in early 2021.
The newly fortified offering adds about 3,500 episodes of programming. Enhanced personalization and discovery features accompany a new user interface promoting brands like BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV from the home screen, along with CBS.
At a time when Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia have just launched multi-billion-dollar streaming services, the redesign aims to showcase the full ViacomCBS portfolio and a unique mix of on-demand and live fare. Viacom and CBS merged last December in a long-awaited, all-stock deal that reunited CBS, Showtime, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and other brands under one roof. The companies had long shared a common controlling shareholder in National Amusements, whose chief, Shari Redstone, is now chairman of ViacomCBS.
CBS launched All Access in 2015 as one of the first direct-to-consumer streaming offerings, and its mix of on-demand and live and local fare makes it unique in the streaming space. At a cost of $6 a month for an ad-supported version and $10 for an ad-free tier, it blends live news and sports attractions like NFL football and Champions League soccer with scripted originals and library titles.
Original shows like Picard and The Good Fight have helped CBS All Access steadily gain subscribers over the years. ViacomCBS, which will report its next quarterly numbers on August 6, said in May that CBS All Access and Showtime’s streaming outlet together had 13.5 million subscribers, up 51% from the same period in 2019. The company has never reported separate numbers for the two services, but executives have said they have generally been close to a 50-50 split.
One new addition to the programming lineup announced Thursday is Kamp Koral, the first spinoff of SpongeBob SquarePants. The prequel had previously been ticketed for Nickelodeon.
The addition of programming puts All Access at about 20,000 hours across film and TV, with plans to reach 30,000 by early 2021. Exclusive originals are expected to come from across ViacomCBS as well as Paramount’s film and TV studios. By comparison, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max had about 15,000 hours upon its May debut and Peacock was at 13,000 on its free tier and 20,000 at the premium subscription level. Disney+ and Apple TV+ are both significantly smaller, though priced accordingly.
Among the upcoming originals are Star Trek: Lower Decks, which premieres August 6; Star Trek: Discovery, whose third season goes live on October 15; Big Brother Live Feeds; The Stand, a limited event series premiering in late 2020; and an untitled Richard Linklater docuseries about animal rescues slated for this fall.
UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League soccer matches begin streaming next week after ViacomCBS won rights to the leagues’ games, which had been carried in the U.S. by Turner Sports.
“Today marks the beginning of an exciting evolution of CBS All Access into the subscription streaming home for ViacomCBS and a preview of what’s to come,” said Marc DeBevoise, Chief Digital Officer of ViacomCBS and president & CEO of ViacomCBS Digital, in the official announcement.
There has been head-scratching in investor and media circles over the strategy of ViacomCBS. The company continues to ink major licensing deals while also teasing a streaming presence that CEO Bob Bakish has called a “house of brands” and a “super service.” Deals with Netflix for Nickelodeon-branded films and series and with HBO Max for Comedy Central mainstay South Park were revealed late last last year. Just before Peacock expanded nationally this month, NBCU and ViacomCBS announced a sweeping licensing pact. It covers several signature properties, from early seasons of South Park to Everybody Loves Raymond to the Godfather films. Some observers wonder why the company didn’t retain more of its own programming and deploy it in streaming.
In an interview with Deadline, ViacomCBS digital chief Marc DeBevoise said criticism of those licensing deals misses the point. Just as it has for decades in traditional TV, the company’s studios will continue to produce for other distributors on a case-by-case basis, he said, and it will avoid selling an entire category to a rival platform. (The Netflix/Nickelodeon deal, for example, leaves a large amount of Nick-branded kids and family programming for ViacomCBS to control.)
“We’ll be the place for everything us,” DeBevoise said. “Others can add pieces of the library.”
Distribution-wise, the early start by CBS All Access has given it an advantage over HBO Max or Peacock, which have both launched without distribution on Roku or Amazon Fire TV, which together reach 80 million U.S. households. All Access has been pretty much everywhere.
“Our product is complicated,” DeBevoise said. “We have a live, local element as part of an SVOD service.” Collaborating on the technical specs — often a pain point with streaming distribution, compared with pay-TV carriage — over a span of years has brought benefits, in DeBevoise’s view. Roku and Amazon Fire, for example, were smaller, hungrier operations in 2015.
“It’s kept us really close with them and it creates a really deep relationship with all of our channel partners,” he said.
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