As Paramount+ prepares for its splashy, star-studded U.K. and Ireland launch in London on Monday, Paramount’s president and CEO of streaming Tom Ryan spoke to Variety about the rebranded company’s global streaming biz expansion that, besides being powered by original content, stands out in the field for its diversified model.
This model involves a mix of platforms and partnerships, combining direct-to-consumer and a la carte offerings with a market-by-market approach. The two main prongs that distinguish Paramount’s streaming offer are the combination of the fast-growing Paramount+ premium offer and its free, ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV, which Ryan founded.
The global rollout will see Paramount+ launch in 2023 in India in partnership with Viacom18, which recently scored streaming rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament previously held by Disney+. In its first Asia launch, Paramount+ debuted last week in South Korea as a free-of-charge addition to the CJ ENM-controlled TVing platform.
Elsewhere in Europe, Paramount+ has set firm dates to launch its standalone streaming offer in Italy in September, in partnership with Sky; and in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France in December, the latter in partnership with Canal+.
In terms of content, Paramount at the London launch is trumpeting plans to commission 150 international originals by 2025 and announcing its latest commissions from around the world, which comprise:
- “Sinaloa’s First Lady” (Working title). A series about Emma Coronel, the beauty queen bride of Mexican drug kingpin and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. John Leguizamo stars and is producing in tandem with prominent Mexican producer Frida Torresblanco (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Cameron Penn (“The Roommates”).
- “Murder of God’s Banker.” A 4-part docuseries on the murder of Italian fugitive banker Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s banker” due to his close ties to the Vatican, whose body was famously found hanging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. The case weaves together the mafia, the Roman Catholic Church and the world of international finance. Produced by New York-based CreativeChaos vmg.
- “The Sheikh”: Inspired by true events, this show tells the tale of a con artist named Ringo, played by Björn Meyer (“Tatort”), who reinvents himself as the heir of an Arabic fortune. It is created by Switzerland’s Dani Levy (“Go For Zucker”) who directs in tandem with Johannes Naber. Levy’s X Filme Creative Pool is producing.
- “Marie Antoinette Serial Killer” (“MASK”): This YA fantasy horror thriller series is created and developed by executive producers Beth Tapper, Mitch Watson and Leila Smith (“Find Me in Paris”). Based on the novel “Marie Antoinette Serial Killer” by U.S. author Katie Alender, the 8-part show follows four young American girls on spring break in Paris who find themselves caught up in a mysterious murder spree that soon becomes very personal. Currently in advanced development, the series is being produced by Frances’s Cottonwood Media.
- “A Thin Line”: This show involves two young “hacktivist” twin sisters on a quest to expose environmental wrongdoing by any means necessary. Produced by Germany’s Weydemann Bros.
- “Circeo”: This series, directed by Italy’s Andrea Molaioli and produced by Rome’s Cattleya, which is part of ITV Studios, reconstructs the aftermath of the crime that came to be known as “The Circeo Massacre” which upset Italy in the 1970s, after two teenage girls were found in the trunk of a car in Rome, naked, wrapped in blankets and drenched in blood.
In a wide-ranging interview with Variety, Ryan outlined his global expansion plan.
In the U.K., besides launching Paramount+ as a standalone, you are also partners with Sky. Paramount has similar partnerships in many territories. This seems to be a key aspect to your strategy.
Yes. We’re taking a similar approach on free, where we’ve launched with partnerships that really supercharged Pluto’s launch into other markets as well. Last month we launched Pluto in the Nordic region with Viaplay Group, which is formerly known as NENT. And then we just announced that we’re launching in Canada with Corus. This sort of approach to working with great local partners spans free and pay.
Give me a snapshot of your rollout plan.
Internationally, as I mentioned, we’re in 30 markets on the ground around the world, so we’ve been able to scale very quickly. We have grown both Pluto and Paramount+ very quick. I mean, Paramount+ only launched [in March 2021], and we’re going to be in 45 markets by the end of the following year . We will have the service in India in 2023. And then we’re looking elsewhere in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Pluto TV has scaled to dozens of markets in a few short years. And that’s in large part due to the fact that we have skilled teams on the ground that have been able to have us do that.
The stated goal is 100 million subs by 2024. What gives Paramount the edge that allows you to set this goal?
We have a differentiated streaming strategy. We’re the only player that’s really focused on the combination of both a free and pay streaming strategy, and we think that is very powerful. I do believe that ‘one plus one of free and pay equals three’ and we’re already successfully driving free users from Pluto TV to Paramount+. When someone does churn out of Paramount+, of course, we try to retain them and reactivate them. But we also then promote Pluto TV to keep them in our streaming ecosystem. In the U.S., our description of Paramount+ is: live sports, breaking news and a mountain of entertainment. [News is not part of Paramount’s international offer]. And we really want to be that service for the whole household, because when you get more than one person in the household engaged with the service, the lifetime value goes up, the churn goes down. People stay with you longer once you’ve got a second and ideally a third person in the family starting to use Paramount+ as one of their go-to apps for entertainment.
What are your current numbers?
We’re at more than 62 million as of the end of last quarter, driven by Paramount+, which alone drove 6.8 million subscribers in Q1. We have teams on the ground in more than 30 countries. The plan is to be in almost 60 markets with more than 60 partners by the end of the year.
Talk to me about your content strategy.
By being a global media company with content that really spans all genres, that allows us to deliver content, from sports, to news, to kids, to movies, to reality, to scripted and originals. We feel extremely well placed. We feel we’re very well competitively positioned because we are able to take these various content engines that we have and create content for multiple platforms. Rather than taking content that we only create for streaming, we are able to monetize that content through different distribution channels. We’re able to take our movies, for example, give them a theatrical run and then put them on Paramount+. And we’ve had great success with that.
Let’s talk about windowing.
I think a year or so ago, there was a lot of discussion about what the right model was for movies to streaming, and we were one of the first, if not the first, to come out with the 45-day post theatrical, which gives a lot of value to the marketing of content and allows you to give it a great theatrical exclusive window, but then bring it quickly to streaming. And we’ve seen great success with a variety of movies that we’ve done that way, most recently “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.” But at a broader level, we’re able to monetize the content that we create across a variety of distribution channels from theatrical and movies, to broadcast, cable, television and streaming.
I doubt that 45-day window applies Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick”
No, it does not. We haven’t decided on that [the theatrical window for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’] yet.