ViacomCBS stock recently hit an all time high as Wall Street continues to fall in love with the long-term upside of sparkly new streaming services. With Paramount+ up and running, the company is now officially locking horns with the Netflixes and Amazon Prime Videos of the world. Yet ViacomCBS isn’t exactly following the same playbook as other major corporations when it comes to content.
When Disney began developing Disney+, it reclaimed every last piece of programming it had licensed to Netflix (though Disney films released between Jan. 2016 and Dec. 2018 may return to Netflix in 2026). In doing so, the Mouse House sacrificed hundreds of millions of dollars in lucrative licensing revenue in order to build an exclusive in-house library. Yet Paramount Pictures spent 2020 selling off most of its theatrical features to rival streamers while Paramount Network licensed cable’s biggest hit (Yellowstone) exclusively to Peacock. Why? Because ViacomCBS President & CEO of Streaming Tom Ryan believes strategic licensing can be a boon for Paramount+ long-term even if it costs the streamer exclusive access.
“We will still look to license content to certain other streamers where we think that makes sense, and that’s not always for financial reasons,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “If you look at i Carly right now, it’s one of the top shows on Netflix. The promotion that it’s getting through Netflix is basically educating a whole new group of iCarly fans, including my three children. We’ll be bringing the new iCarly to Paramount+. So there are benefits to licensing, but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way. Going forward, we’re going to be more focused on putting our best content on Paramount+.”
The Netflix boost is a very real phenomenon that has helped such series as Breaking Bad, Lucifer and You find widespread new audiences. Leveraging the rival streamer’s market-leading customer base of 200 million-plus worldwide subscribers before launching an iCarly revival on Paramount+ makes a certain amount of sense. ViacomCBS also licenses Criminal Minds to Netflix, which is routinely the most-watched weekly show on all of SVOD, according to Nielsen’s minutes-watched metrics.
But as was hinted at the company’s Paramount+ presentation last month, the need to reclaim top tier shows that have been licensed elsewhere — some in deals prior to the Viacom-CBS merger — is a priority.
“Yeah, reclaiming certain content and putting that on Paramount+ is core to the strategy, but it’s case by case,” Ryan said.
Some analysts have criticized Paramount+ for not being an aggressive enough push into direct-to-consumer business, particularly as the last major entrant in a highly competitive arena. ViacomCBS’ bet-hedging licensing strategy may feed into that perception. But if iCarly‘s time on Netflix, not to mention the streamer’s long-awaited live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, drives interest back to Paramount+, the polarizing strategy will have paid off. Long-term, Ryan believes his company’s platform can emerge from the rubble of the streaming wars as a victor.
“There’s going to be a handful of winners,” he told THR. “There’s a rising tide that will lift the best boats — not all boats — and I’m confident that we’ve got the absolutely best boat in free today and that we’ve got all the makings for one of the best boats in pay.”