ViacomCBS (PARA -1.29%) has largely been cast off by the market. The legacy TV provider has been so out of favor that despite tripling off its March bottom, it still trades at a forward P/E ratio of just 6.4.
With that type of valuation, one might think Viacom is on its way to extinction; however, about one year after CBS merged with Viacom, the combined company is making big moves to keep up with the times. On Tuesday, the company announced what may be its most important move: The company would be rebranding its CBS All Access streaming bundle to a much larger "mega-bundle" named Paramount+, which the company will unveil next year.
Today, ViacomCBS has three separate streaming services, across free (PlutoTV), basic (CBS All Access), and premium (Showtime) selections. In the most recent quarter, ViacomCBS saw its domestic streaming subscribers, combining CBS All Access and Showtime, increase 74% to 16 million. Meanwhile, PlutoTV reached 26.5 million monthly active users, up 61%. While having three separate streaming services for each customer segment is nice, many media peers are moving toward "super-bundles" that offer a broad range of content for a single monthly subscription price.
ViacomCBS has gradually been adding more content to CBS All Access this summer, including UEFA soccer and more episodes from Viacom brands MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and BET. After the additions, management noted that August saw an all-time record for streams, one of the best months for sign-ups, and that the new audience skewed considerably younger. Given those positive indications, the company is turning CBS All Access into Paramount+, which it hopes will accelerate adoption even further and reach more cord-cutters.
Paramount+ will combine CBS All Access, Viacom brands, news, sports, and Showtime content under one banner, along with some exclusive originals. The company has chosen the Paramount studios brand, which has a storied history in Hollywood and was owned by Viacom prior to the merger.
ViacomCBS will also be bringing five new exclusive original series to Paramount+, along with the previously announced new SpongeBob SquarePants series, Kamp Koral. The company has also decided to release the new SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, exclusively on demand on its new platform.
Should the positive trends continue, ViacomCBS looks like it just may be able to make the transition from linear to streaming at least somewhat successfully -- especially if any new originals on Paramount+ turn out to be hits.
Bakish making other big moves
It's not just the new streaming service that's big news for ViacomCBS. The company also just made a big asset sale, unloading its CNET media group to Red Ventures for $500 million. CNET was a portfolio of internet properties that included ZDNet, GameSpot, and TV Guide, among others, but it wasn't a core asset for the new company.
At a recent analyst conference, CEO Bob Bakish said the company would focus on content, networks, and streaming; all other assets would be up for sale. Aside from CNET, ViacomCBS also owns the BlackRock building in New York, as well as the Simon & Schuster book publishing company, both of which are currently up for sale. The company had a hefty $19.7 billion in debt as of June 30, so it plans to de-lever the company with any proceeds.
New distributor deals galore
In addition to forming a new streaming service and selling major assets, ViacomCBS has also recently negotiated, or renegotiated, a number of distribution deals this year, including deals with Comcast (CMCSA -0.64%), Verizon (VZ 1.09%), Dish Network (DISH -2.19%), YouTube, and newer streaming bundles. ViacomCBS has also renegotiated retransmission deals with local affiliates, which include annual step-up price increases.
As a result, Bakish sees accelerating affiliate fee growth in the second half of the year, even if linear cable subscribers continue to decrease. Bakish also sees sequential improvement in advertising from the second quarter, which he said marked the bottom of the downturn in terms of advertising spend.
All the right moves
Legacy cable providers like ViacomCBS are in a difficult position as cord-cutting accelerates and the world moves toward streaming. However, Bakish is making the right moves, putting together a large and comprehensive streaming service from the combined CBS and Viacom assets, harvesting cash from the declining linear business, and selling non-core assets to pay down debt.
It may not work, but if ViacomCBS can make the transition, its shares look incredibly cheap right now, even after their recovery earlier this year.