ViacomCBS reveals ‘Godfather’ drama & talks global strategy for new streamer Paramount+

The Godfather (Paramount)

ViacomCBS has revealed a raft of new shows and unveiled the name for its soon-to-launch ‘super service’ OTT platform, with execs also outlining the streamer’s commissioning strategy and its international plans.

The rebranded CBS All Access will be called Paramount+ and will incorporate content from across ViacomCBS brands, including MTV, BET, Comedy Central, CBS, Paramount Television Studios, Nickelodeon, and Smithsonian Channel, as well as movies from Paramount Pictures.

It is set to launch in the US in early 2021 and will then be expanded into Australia, Latin America and the Nordics, with Marc DeBevoise, chief digital officer at Viacom CBS & CEO at ViacomCBS Digital, targeting “hundreds of millions” of subscribers globally.

International expansion

DeBevoise, who was speaking at NATPE Virtual Streaming+, said the company had picked Australia, Lat Am and the Nordics for its initial focus outside of the US partly because the company already has extensive businesses in those countries and regions.

“There are hundreds of millions of subscribers up for grabs in the US and hundreds of millions in the international markets too, the existing large players can only grow so much and there will be other subs generated and we will fight for them,” he said.

DeBevoise confirmed that 10 All Access, the OTT service operated by ViacomCBS-owned Network Ten in Australia, would become Paramount+ as part of the changes, and added that the company would be “cooking on gas” in its initial launch countries “from the beginning.”

Content will vary on territories, he continued, adding that the Nordics had been chosen as an early launch region because of its high broadband penetration and because of an availability of rights.”In some other areas, the rights [availability means it] doesn’t make sense for transition straight away.”

Originals & content strategy

ViacomCBS also used the rebranding of Paramount+, whose naming convention follows similar moves by Disney and Apple, to unveil details of several new shows, including limited drama The Offer, which explores the production of mafia epic The Godfather. It will be produced by Paramount TV Studios and will be written by Michael Tolkien (The Player, Escape At Dannemora).

Julie McNamara, EVP & head of original programming at CBS All Access, said the show would explore the story of the film’s creation and production, during which it received threats from the mafia. “Who knows what could happen with The Godfather in the future,” she added.

Julie McNamara

Other scripted series include spy drama Lioness from Yellowstone’s Taylor Sheridan and a revival of Mara Brock Akil’s sitcom The Game – which ran on ViacomCBS-owned networks The CW and BET.

New factual offerings revealed yesterday include The Real Criminal Minds, a spin-off from the scripted series, which joins existing shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired Kamp Koral, another example of ViacomCBS leveraging its existing IP for ‘new’ content.

Paramount+ will also become home to a revived version of unscripted show Behind The Music. The series is being produced by Creature Films and will delve into the behind-the-scenes world of world-famous musicians, with the programme an example of how ViacomCBS is looking to lure in – and retain – subscribers.

“There is of course an interesting distinction with streaming,” said McNamara, “because content that goes on our streaming platform stays up. Part of why [Behind The Music] makes sense for us is that the CBS live streams of events like the Grammy Awards or the Country Music Awards always drives up the numbers, so people can either stay and watch that event and then find other things on our platform – or tune out.”

She said a similar approach would be taken across the streamer’s sports coverage, which includes big ticket items such as the Super Bowl and March Madness, but also live feeds from shows such as Big Brother.

Limited series appeal

Both McNamara and DeBevoise also pointed to The Stand – the upcoming adaptation of the Stephen King novel – as a show that illustrates the streamer’s programming play. While McNamara admitted that limited series are “not as desirable” because they don’t allow the streamer to profit over multiple years, a show such as The Stand helps to draw in subscribers and cut through market clutter.

“You know there will be international value in that show and you have confidence in the numbers of subs it will drive in,” she added.

DeBevoise continued: “As we head towards being a broader service, you can become a little less focused on the repeatability of each show, although it does create production issues and expense.

“But you want to get people in the door and then engage them, and when you’re trying to get cohorts and groups in, and retain them, you can really use something like The Stand. It fits with a group of people who you can then retain with other content, even news or sport. Those one-offs become a feeder set for that group of people.”


Building the brand

While some elements of the new streamer remain unclear – including how Showtime’s OTT service fits into the strategy – ViacomCBS said it had chosen the Paramount brand because of its global resonance.

Josh Line, chief brand officer, ViacomCBS, said: “The Paramount brand is known and loved all around the world, and is synonymous with great entertainment. It’s always brought people together, which makes it a perfect fit for a streaming service that’s uniquely positioned to do the same. The Paramount+ streaming service will elevate ViacomCBS’ iconic family of brands.”

ViacomCBS said that internal brand research found that Paramount has “near-universal brand recognition and high affinity” with 98% recognition in the UK and “well over 90%” positive association.

In addition to the aforementioned brands, ViacomCBS believes that its portfolio of sports rights will give it an edge over comparable products which combine on-demand and live streaming such as NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

Domenic DiMeglio, EVP, head of operations and chief marketing officer for ViacomCBS Digital, said: “No other pure-play SVOD service offers championship-level live sports from the NFL to SEC football, to UEFA Champions League, March Madness, and the Masters. Plus, it includes one of the most trusted brands in news with CBS News. That combination of live sports, breaking news, and what we call in the description as ‘a mountain of entertainment’ really differentiates us in the space.

“We have stretched the Paramount brand to really reflect the unique, broad-based offering that we’re bringing to market.”

In a lengthy release announcing the branding, there was no mention of the recently launched US bundle of CBS All Access and Showtime for Apple TV+ customers at a deeply reduced US$9.99. Given the enhancements to the rebranded CBS All Access it is possible that the bundle will be short-lived.

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