ViacomCBS has set March 4 as the launch date for Paramount Plus, the company’s effort to join the direct-to-consumer streaming revolution alongside its larger rivals.
The subscription service will debut on that date in the U.S. and Latin America. ViacomCBS will host a virtual investor presentation on Feb. 24 to detail the company’s evolving streaming strategy as well as fourth-quarter and full-year financial results for 2020.
Paramount Plus will be a much-expanded rebrand of CBS All Access, the subscription service launched in 2014 that combined live streaming of CBS’ network programming via its 150-plus local affiliates, including NFL games, with a menu of original series, catch-up viewing and library shows. With the relaunch, Paramount Plus will also feature dedicated hubs for ViacomCBS’ core cable properties including Nickelodeon, MTV, BET and Comedy Central, for a total of some 30,000 titles. At present, CBS All Access is believed to have about 8-9 million subscribers.
ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish has made the build-out of All Access a top priority since the December 2019 merger of Viacom and CBS Corp. The Feb. 24 investor presentation will talk up ViacomCBS’ position with a big footprint in the ad-supported streaming arena with the growing Pluto TV, as well as its subscription bids with Paramount Plus and the standalone Showtime app. Paramount Plus will also have an ad-supported component through the CBS live streams and the CBS News, sports highlights and “Entertainment Tonight”-branded theme channels that complement the mothership Eye on CBS All Access.
ViacomCBS does not have the balance sheet to match Netflix or Disney for spending on streaming content. Bakish’s move as articulated in December is to build “a linked ecosystem of differentiated offerings across free and pay streaming.”
ViacomCBS’ lack of a clear streaming plan for Wall Street had been a drag on the stock, which sank to just under $12 as the coronavirus crisis hit the U.S. in March 2020. But news of the Paramount Plus launch date and investor presentation comes as ViacomCBS shares have been climbing steadily. The stock is up 80% over the past six months after closing Friday at $45.30, and up 35% for the year to date.
Shares have no doubt been boosted by recent ViacomCBS distribution deals with virtual MVPDs, notably YouTube TV and Hulu, that promise to beef up the company’s all-important domestic affiliate revenue line. That plus a better-than-expected advertising market and a more ambitious streaming strategy has earned ViacomCBS positive comments from influential analysts in the past few weeks.
“We’ve written positively on our expectations for Paramount+, stating we think the platform can be a winner in the streaming wars given its mix of strong IP, news, and sports,” JPMorgan’s Alexia Quadrani wrote in a note Jan. 12.
ViacomCBS said Paramount Plus would launch in the Nordics on March 25 and Australia in mid-year. The Canadian version of CBS All Access will rebrand as Paramount Plus on March 4 but the expanded content lineup will become available later in the year.