Viacom and CBS Reunited … And It Feels So Smart (TV Driven)

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
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What a blitz of commentary erupting mere moments after CBS and Viacom's decision last week to remarry in an all-stock deal.

Some pundits debated whether — when all the conditions pass stockholder and regulatory muster — ViacomCBS will have what it takes to be an equal among the likes of Amazon, Apple, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Netflix, Walt Disney or WarnerMedia.

Lost in all this speculative frenzy was one major rationale driving Viacom and CBS to hook up again at long last that I've deduced from developments I've tracked: the American public bringing smart television sets and TV-connected devices into the mainstream of their daily lives. According to the latest data from Nielsen and other media research institutions, more than 75 percent of all U.S. households possess a smart set or device (Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, etc.) and watch upwards of 10 billion hours of programming and use applications via these possessions each month.

Notice what CBS and Viacom officials pointed out immediately in the second paragraph of the press release about the deal: "The combined company will possess a portfolio of fast-growing direct-to-consumer platforms, including both subscription and ad-supported offerings." Instead of highlighting all the broadcast, cable, and multicast networks soon to be under their combined control, CBS and Viacom touted their build-up of programming services from CBS All Access to Viacom's Pluto TV — all distributed directly to viewers primarily or exclusively through smart TV sets and devices.

Not so further into that press release, CBS and Viacom jointly declared that, as far as growth scenarios are concerned post-reunion, the top priority is accelerating that direction. In fact, no need to wait until the deal is complete before this pedal hits the metal. CBS is set to launch ET Live, a full-time entertainment news and event coverage channel formatted after Entertainment Tonight, and additional local news derivatives of CBSN, coming off the rollout of such individual channels earlier this year in New York and Los Angeles. At Viacom, BET+ is a few months away from kicking off; it will feature new scripted and unscripted series from Will Packer, Tyler Perry, Tracy Oliver, and other top content makers.

Once this deal is done, expect all sorts of content combinations from various CBS and Viacom units to diversify the smart TV ventures already operating. All the better to pick up more customers paying for the subscription-modeled services, such as CBS All Access, and draw both viewers and sponsor dollars for the ad-supported ones. Keep in mind that smart TV sets and devices — and services distributed through them — are projected to finish 2019 with $12 billion to $14 billion in advertising revenues, then take in $20 billion to $24 billion during 2020.

Viacom's Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, for example, could bring their respective content libraries to CBS All Access, create new content strictly for All Access customers, or go multi-platform with All Access, followed by video-on-demand and basic cable presentations. Nickelodeon could be the first channel showcased on All Access, given that venture's decision earlier this month to carry original and acquired kidvid content before the end of 2019. One of the originals will be Danger Mouse, a remake of the British-made secret agent satire that became a top Nickelodeon attraction during the 1980s.

Companies other than CBS and Viacom could benefit from the merger in the short term. Take Charter Communications' free on-demand venture, Spectrum Originals, whose first move in first-run scripted series this spring, L.A.'s Finest, did well enough to be renewed for 2020. Viacom has a co-production/program development deal with Spectrum Originals, with production underway on Paradise Lost, a Southern gothic-style mystery with Paramount Network having the post-VOD release. With Viacom and CBS together, Spectrum Originals could pull incremental subscription or ad revenues from plays on CBS All Access, Pluto TV, or elsewhere. Could other Spectrum Originals, such as L.A.'s Finest or the upcoming Mad About You reboot, find their own way to future ViacomCBS platforms? It's not out of the question.

Let others sound off about how long it will be before ViacomCBS grabs another top content source for growth. For now, how and how soon this combination obtains a deeper role in the transforming universe of smart TV sets and devices is enough to ponder.

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