ViacomCBS doesn’t see licensing content as liability for Paramount Plus

Robert M. Bakish, the chief executive of ViacomCBS, appears in an undated social media photo. (Image: LinkedIn/Graphic: The Desk)

ViacomCBS executives say they are not over-extending themselves by offering their back catalog of cable TV programming to third party streaming services while simultaneously preparing to launch a blockbuster streaming service of their own.

When ViacomCBS announced a deal with Netflix and AT&T’s WarnerMedia to offer past episodes of Comedy Central shows, it was seen as a head-scratcher by media analysts who questioned why the company would license these titles to competing streaming services mere months before they intended to relaunch CBS All Access as Paramount Plus.

The relaunched service is expected to carry many of the same Comedy Central titles along with others from ViacomCBS’ catalog of films and TV shows. But their presence on competing streaming services has caused some to wonder if it has the potential to make TV watchers feel less incentivized to sign up for Paramount Plus when it launches next year.

Speaking to investors this week, ViacomCBS chief executive Robert Bakish downplayed those concerns, saying the company had plenty of content to offer and that it just didn’t make sense to license some top titles to competing services if it helped bring additional revenue.

“We have a tremendous asset base in content, both from our film library, TV library and current series in production,” Bakish said on Friday during a conference call with investors. “We can’t keep all of that for ourselves. It doesn’t make sense.”

As of Friday, ViacomCBS had deals with several third party streaming services who are allowed to offer the broadcast and cable giant’s TV shows and films to their subscribers in exchange for a licensing fee.

Last year, AT&T WarnerMedia inked a $500 million deal that saw the animated sitcom “South Park” move from its streaming home at Walt Disney’s Hulu to HBO Max. The deal was a benefit to ViacomCBS because it holds a portion of the streaming rights to the show (South Park Studios, which is run by the show’s creators, owns the other portion).

Similarly, ViacomCBS offered a handful of programs from its Showtime cable network to Comcast’s Peacock under a similar licensing deal. Peacock also distributes ViacomCBS’ breakout original series “Yellowstone” after it airs on the Paramount Network.

Bakish said third-run programming like “Key & Peele” and “Chapelle Show” aren’t shows that are expected to bring in subscribers to CBS All Access, though those shows and others from Comedy Central’s library are offered on the service and are expected to move to Paramount Plus next year.

Instead, the company is betting on original series and films that are exclusive to CBS All Access now and will be exclusive to Paramount Plus next year as the main attraction for new subscribers.

“Library content, including some stuff from Comedy Central, is good for engagement,” Bakish said. “We want to have it for our own use, but we don’t think it detracts from subscriber acquisition for Paramount Plus.”

Some executives think licensing content to third parties could even bolster Paramount Plus’ overall appeal on the assumption that subscribers will stream shows like “Reno 911” over and over again, then replace HBO Max or Netflix with Paramount Plus to save some money. Paramount Plus is expected to cost $10 a month when it launches next year, much cheaper than HBO Max at $15 a month and slightly more than Netflix’s base package at $9 a month.