ViacomCBS Q1 Earnings Review: Bakish Back on Track

Bob Bakish
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

It’s been a tale of two earnings calls for Viacom in 2020.

The media giant’s stock plummeted in February following the Q4 earnings call, when CEO Bob Bakish set out vague plans for an expanded streaming service that seemed hasty and half-thought out. In contrast, following the Q1 call on May 7, the stock ticked up 10.4% to $16.42 by mid-afternoon. 

What changed was the emergence of a coherent plan for the enhanced CBS All Access, and the promise of major changes coming this summer. Bakish went over some of the details we already knew⁠—live news from 200 affiliates, content from Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Smithsonian, MTV, BET and Paramount Network⁠—and added considerable sizzle to the offer.

VIP’s stance earlier this week was that Bakish had to make a decision between providing content, often based on ViacomCBS IP such as “Last of the Mohicans” and “Grease,” to streaming rivals, and keeping more of these shows for its own SVOD. This was solidly addressed on the call, with the CEO mentioning that the expanded service has an originals strategy designed to leverage the massive library of IP that the company has access to. For those keeping score at home, that’s not only the Paramount Pictures and CBS TV archives, but also the Miramax library, which ViacomCBS now has the rights to develop shows on following the purchase of a 49% stake in the studio.

With the library including a vast range of eye-catching titles that would entice casual viewers, from “Gangs of New York” to “Transformers” and “Saving Private Ryan” to “Top Gun,” creating original TV shows based on these properties could be a potent weapon in the war for consumer attention.

This wasn’t the only positive news announced for the forthcoming SVOD reboot. Bakish said that, as of May 7, 100 Paramount Pictures films were available to stream on CBS All Access, with more titles available during the summer. Another feature mentioned was that there will be first-window content from the featured Viacom networks available. 

Interestingly, Bakish mentioned that ViacomCBS believes consumers want episodes of a full season of content to binge at all once. Whether this hints that originals will have their full season available at launch remains to be seen, but would be a bold move to compete with Netflix. One issue that SVOD services from TV companies have had is an inability to match Netflix on one of its consumer strengths, so making full-season availability a feature would be a nice touch.

With the promised deadline of summer for the enhanced service, it’s likely that we will see moves made soon. With market confidence partially restored in ViacomCBS, the next step will be when further details are announced, likely in the Q2 earnings call. Based on Bakish’s moves, don’t count the new service out.