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CBS All Access on the Streaming Wars to Come: ‘We Don’t Fear These Changes’

CBS All Access is ramping up its offerings to at least 12 original series in 2020, said streaming service execs at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour Thursday, with additional plans to expand programming into sports, movies and nonfiction titles, and series acquisitions.

Part of that early selection includes World Series of Poker bracelet events, the pickup of All Access’ first Nintendo-versus-Sega feature documentary “Console Wars” and the acquisition of off-network streaming rights to “Nancy Drew,” which debuts on the CW in the fall. That acquisition comes amid the end of a multi-year output deal between the CW and Netflix.

“You can expect this to be just the beginning of more to come from us in terms of series acquisitions as we go forward, ” said President and COO Marc DeBevoise on stage to a roomful of reporters and TV critics.

But don’t expect all of CW’s future shows to necessarily wind up on All Access. Speaking to Variety later, All Access original-programming chief Julie McNamara said that such buys, of CW series or otherwise, would be made on a “case-by-case” basis.

During the presentation, DeBevoise was bullish on All Access’ position in the market, even as a field of contenders — Disney Plus, HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s streamer — looms large in the not-too-distant future.

“We don’t fear these changes,” he said. Like many of his peers in the streaming space, DeBevoise does not believe that the competition is a zero-sum game, noting that consumers subscribe to an average of 3.4 subscription video-on-demand service, and that 80% have at least one service.

That said, he touted the strength of All Access’ arsenal of 12,000-plus episodes, titles and movies, versus the 8,000 pieces of content and 3,000 episodes and program that premium over-the-top services from Starz and HBO offer, respectively. (All Access likens itself to premium services more so than, say, a Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.)

“We are multiples the size of HBO’s total catalog size, and only cost $6-$10 more, depending on the package that you take,” he said. “It’s a tremendous value proposition for consumers.”

CBS has made no secret of its lofty goals for its two direct-to-consumer subscription services. CBS All Access and Showtime OTT together have 8 million subscribers, with a target of 25 million subscribers by 2022.

Four out of five All Access subscribers watch streaming shows on traditional TV screens, disclosed DeBevoise, with nearly two-thirds of those viewers in the key 18-49 demographic.

Much of its streaming programming falls under the category of drama, including “The Twilight Zone,” Stephen King’s “The Stand,” “Why Women Kill,” “Tell Me a Story and “Star Trek: Discovery.” On stage, McNamara said there are comedies in development for the service and that she would like to expand All Access’ comedy brand.

With the hotly anticipated “Star Trek: Picard,” animated “Star Trek: Lower Decks” and “Star Trek: Short Treks” on tap for 2020, the streamer will become a hub for Trek fans craving more programming. But it will also be judicious in its programming decisions.

“We feel like any show that we add to that franchise needs to carve out a unique niche in the world of ‘Star Trek,’ and needs to be a very good, high-level execution,” McNamara told Variety. “I think we will collectively know when it feels like we actually should take our foot off the gas a little bit.”

Nevertheless, she added that there’s a chance that after a certain period of time, the streaming service will want to replenish its pipeline with more content.

“We love the upside of this franchise [and] we feel like there’s kind of a limitless interest and appetite,” said McNamara. “That said, we have to curate carefully and only put the shows on when it feels right.”

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