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Why Australia Matters To The Future Of Paramount Plus, And ViacomCBS

With streaming services for all the big Hollywood media companies launched in the United States, attention has been rapidly shifting overseas, where there’s still room to grab a foothold and ultimately, significant market share with the right mix of programming, technology, and local savvy.

At ViacomCBS, that makes online-video veteran Kelly Day’s job really important. She’s president of international streaming services, overseeing the global rollout of subscription streamer Paramount Plus and ad-supported service Pluto. For a little added pressure, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish made his reputation reshaping the European cable TV operations of what was then Viacom. He knows a lot about international too.

“It’s been an area of focus for Bob for a long time,” Day acknowledged. “Even beyond that, if you think about streaming and as the company transitions from linear TV to streaming, operating as a global business is critically important to our success.”

Paramount Plus, which debuted in the United States in March, has already launched in Latin America’s huge Spanish-language market and in the Nordic countries. All told, some 45 countries or territories are on the Paramount Plus road map to launch by the end of 2022, Day said.

“The economics of running a streaming service very much drive wanting to build a scaled global business,” Day said. “That’s why we want to be in pretty much every market in the world.”

This week brought another big step, with the launch of Paramount Plus in Australia, a moderately sized English-speaking territory with an outsized footprint in global media production thanks to a long list of big-name stars, directors, and the occasional right-leaning media mogul.

“Australia is not a huge market, but it’s not a small market either,” Day said. “Streaming is very popular there. ViacomCBS has pay (TV) and broadcast channels there. It’s a piece in the overall puzzle.”

ViacomCBS was able to work with the country’s fecund film and TV industry to create a number of original series in time for the Australia launch, led by Spreadsheet, which Day says is a “raunchy comedy we think is super fun.” Some of those shows may even have a chance to find audiences in places far from Sydney, Perth, or Darwin.

“Australia has been very locked down during the pandemic,” Day said, a useful situation for a media company trying to launch a localized streaming service there. “We’ve actually managed to scale up some local productions that we’re really excited about. Covid has been challenging on production across the board, but we have several (originals ready), with more coming for 2022.”

Pluto, meanwhile, is already in Latin America too, as well as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and France, with Italy coming later this year, Day said.

The subscription and ad-based services build on each other in various ways, with cross-promotions and even ad-supported channels built around favorite ViacomCBS franchises. Pluto often serves as a way to begin understanding the programming preferences of a given local audience, Day said, and then using it to promote awareness and interest in Paramount Plus. The next step is to persuade Pluto users to move up and pay up for Paramount Plus and its “mountain of entertainment.”

“Our plan is to be in the top 20 ad markets, that’s our first objective,” Day said of Pluto rollout plans. “I think Pluto is a tremendous complement to Paramount Plus. If you look at LatAm, we operate both there. We’ve seen them complement each other very well. We are pretty strong believers in SVOD and AVOD together.”

Pluto already is on schedule to top $1 billion in ad revenues this year, a startling number for those not following closely the rapid growth of ad-supported VOD services such as Pluto and competitors such as Tubi, IMDb TV, Roku TV, and Xumo.

“There is an audience that genuinely loves the value proposition: it’s free, widely distributed, doesn’t require registration, you can turn it on and leave it on,” Day said of Pluto. “There is a real uniqueness, I’ll say even quirkiness, to the service that people really appreciate that is different from what the expectation is of a premium SVOD service that’s driven by big-budget premium content.”

Knitting together the Paramount Plus and Pluto experiences across dozens of markets will be Day’s duty in coming months.

In making that happen, Day’s digital chops are unquestionable. Day spent seven years with AOL back when it meant something, was VP of e-commerce for wedding site The Knot, then held various e-commerce roles over seven years at Discovery, ending as EVP and GM of digital media and commerce. She jumped fully into digital video early, as CEO of startup Blip Networks back in 2012, then became chief digital officer/chief business officer for teen-video favorite Awesomeness back when that service lived up to its name in the multi-channel network era.

In 2017, Day was hired as president of Viacom Digital Studios to help the long-time cable-TV powerhouse improve its online game. One corporate merger and a couple of title changes later, Day heads international streaming for the much bigger ViacomCBS, with Bakish’s much bigger vision of what digital can be for the company.

Now comes the hard part: actually getting the service optimized for dozens of countries, languages, local audiences, and complicated rights deals.

“The ultimate vision is we want to operate a leading global streaming service, in pretty much every country in the world” Day said. “But it’s not quite as simple as flipping the switch and being in 188 countries.”

Standing up a streaming service in a new country or territory depends on a lot of moving parts coming together, Day said.

“The first gating factor, the first consideration is to really look at is how much content do we have available in a given market,” Day said. ViacomCBS has been an aggressive licensor for years, especially overseas, of its many movies, cable and broadcast series and formats based on those shows.

That means shows available in the United States (say, a Star Trek series coproduced with Netflix

NFLX
) may not be available, or not for a few years anyway, in many other countries where ViacomCBS might want to launch Paramount Plus.

“We’ve been operating a scaled content business,” Day said. “We own a number of successful studios. We’ve been running those businesses a long, long time. Previously a lot of that content had been licensed out to partners, such as Sky in Germany,” where ViacomCBS just announced a Europe-wide deal with the Comcast

CMCSA
-owned satellite giant.

“What is the opportunity to repatriate that content,” Day said, speaking generally. “It could be licenses could just expire. We license shows for three to four years usually.”

There are other factors too, like technology to deliver the service. The company already has long-running relationships with cable operators around the world. How does the company leverage those relationships and platforms to deliver access to Paramount Plus and Pluto? There’s even the prosaic question of having the spare cash to make sure each rollout is a compelling experience for potential local customers.

Day declined to talk specifics about South Park, whose creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone just signed a mammoth deal with ViacomCBS to extend the hit show another five years (to its 30th season), create 14 South Park movies specifically for Paramount Plus, and even, somehow, find time to create non-South Park programming.

That all sounds great for Paramount Plus, but rights to 24 previous seasons of the durable animated hit are already licensed to HBO Max in the United States and a number of other countries.

“We will have those discussions with our distribution group when that deal comes up” for renewal, Day said. “Ultimately, we’d love to have all of our biggest franchises, as much or all of that content as possible, and have it on Paramount Plus. That’s something to aspire to. Sometimes the path can be somewhat complicated. We’ll see where things go with some of our key franchises.”

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