ViacomCBS’ streaming business-focused Investor Day on Feb. 15 focused on the company’s all-in-one streaming push worldwide and related name change to Paramount Global.
The entertainment giant’s international reach and global streaming ambitions were more than a passing mention at the event. Led by Chairman and CEO Bob Bakish, Viacom has long made its global presence and relationships a priority and a source of pride, even before its 2019 merger with CBS Corp. But with streaming services relying on large user bases around the world to justify big investments in content, global is more than ever the focus of the company’s attention. “We see a huge global opportunity in streaming, a potential market much bigger than can be captured by linear TV and cinema alone,” Bakish told investors.
It’s no surprise, then, that the company on Tuesday also unveiled a strategic partnership with Vivendi’s Canal+ to launch the Paramount+ streaming service in France, extending the reach of Paramount+ and its SkyShowtime streaming joint venture with Comcast’s Sky to over 60. markets by the end of 2022. The Investor Day also included news on international original series scripted for Paramount+, including NCIS: Sydneythe first international release of the company’s successful franchise.
As the conglomerate’s international head, Raffaele Annecchino — whose new title is now President and CEO, International Networks, Studios and Streaming at Paramount Global — was tasked with managing and optimizing the deployment of streaming services in the world. He took over as president and CEO of ViacomCBS Networks International in December 2020. A long-time trusted executive for Bakish, says Annecchino The Hollywood Reporter that he saw his role as one of ensuring a “global transformation” of the company to leverage its various businesses in the age of streaming.
THR spoke to Annecchino about her first year moving to a streaming-centric approach, how her team mixes a big-picture view with a market-by-market strategy, how partnerships with companies like Comcast’s Sky “unlock” opportunities, and how the streaming can become a long-term sustainable business.
You’ve worked for the company for about 25 years. What did you focus on during your first year and a few months as head of international operations, a role your boss Bob Bakish also held?
It has been what we call a year of global transformation. If I look at our mindset, we really are a different company now. We used to have strong linear businesses in various countries, now we are a streaming-focused global player. Today, we are one of the world’s leading streaming players. We’ve launched Paramount+ in over 25 markets, including Australia, Latin America, the Nordics and Canada. And we have now set the stage for strategic expansion, where we will launch, via the SkyShowtime joint venture with Comcast, into 20 European markets. Paramount+ and SkyShowtime will be present in over 60 markets in total, including all major European markets, by the end of 2022. Additionally, and just as importantly, we have Pluto TV as one of the most major free and ad-supported streaming TV services. in the world, which is number one in Europe.
Tell me a bit more about what you mean by global transformation and how essential is it?
We have to think outside the box, so I like the term “global transformation”. This also works, due to the Transformers [a key franchise of the conglomerate’s Paramount Pictures] and the focus on the world. The word “global” is fundamental, because being global is one of the competitive advantages. We are building global teams now thinking about global content strategy and global marketing strategy.
At the same time, we have a presence and a great knowledge of the local markets (and their relationships), which allows a more diversified strategy adapted to the markets and their needs, because we know them well and have a long history there.
So you combine a global and local approach? Is this also the reason why you are not pursuing a one-size-fits-all approach on a global scale and launching streaming services with partners such as Sky and Canal+?
The future is global, and we’ve operated that way for decades. We have always championed a glocal strategy – global vision, local execution. Today, we have a strong global strategy, supported by a local heritage. It’s a key differentiator. We are a global player with a long-term sustainable plan that we believe will position us as one of the leading streamers.
You want to customize the strategy market by market to unlock the maximum value in each market and build a sustainable and successful financial model over the years. It is also a top priority for the (financial) markets. We want to make sure that we create this model that can succeed over the years and bring value to our consumers, but also to our shareholders. I think this strategic approach is specific to the company.
In critical markets in Europe, such as Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and now France, we have signed strategic partnerships with major distributors, because our strategy is to prioritize markets with high added value and to make the most of it. I’ll give you an example: Canal+ subscribers will, when we launch Paramount+ in France in December, benefit from all our content, which gives us entry with a stronger subscriber base. So we unlock content and value.
How critical are original content and production franchises to powering streaming services?
We have our studio, we have global franchises and local production centers, like in Latin America. We basically execute what we call global vision with local execution, which is a key competitive advantage. Because streaming is global, but at the same time, to be successful, you need a custom go-to-market strategy defined for each market. We adapt the local approach, marketing, distribution and content by leveraging our unique ecosystem market by market.
Some see legacy businesses as a burden. But we’re turning our legacy business into a competitive advantage to drive streaming. Having our teams in local markets and knowing them allows us to take advantage of all our assets. Think of the Telefe network in Argentina or Network 10 in Australia – these free channels drive streaming and serve as a content engine. Through the LAN, you can really develop IP (intellectual property). Five bedrooms is a top local show in Australia, for example, which for a few months was seen as a key acquisition driver for Paramount+ there. The same time, [Yellowstone prequel] 1883 is a leading title in Latin America. So we have global tent poles like Yellowstone, Spongebob Squarepants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, Top Gun and CSI. An/a then we have local tent poles.
Is it fair to assume that you plan to retain more of your company’s successful franchises for your global streaming portfolio?
We repatriate South Park to make Paramount+ the exclusive home of South Park. More and more, we want to bring our biggest IPs back to our platforms now that we have a global opportunity.
To what extent do you develop the creation of international originals?
We’re producing over 50 international scripted originals this year, and we’re going to have seven new Shores and for the first time an international NCIS, NCIS: Sydney. So we have a diversity of content that I think is really unbeatable, because content is really where we put all of our effort. It’s all about content. Content is king in our strategy.
You also acquired companies, such as Chilevision in Chile and a majority stake in Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico (of Walt Disney Co. and founding family). Why did you feel the need to expand your content creation capabilities, especially in Latin America?
With agreement for Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico, our company is today one of the largest producers of content in Spanish in the world. And we can deploy that content locally and export it around the world.
Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are regions where you still have to announce a lot of your streaming plans. Will you be launching into those parts of the world next year, and do you expect any local partnerships or agreements there as well?
2023 is the year we would like to launch in the Middle East. In Asia, we have already announced a launch in South Korea this summer as part of a strategic partnership with CJ ENM, the company behind Parasite. So we also have a strategic plan to produce Korean content. Again, this is part of our focus on diversity of content beyond global hubs, but it’s also a recognition that content from international territories can succeed on a global scale.
In 2023, there are more opportunities in Asia and Africa. Africa is an interesting market. In Africa, I think we will move from AVOD to SVOD with Pluto TV and Paramount+. I think by 2023 we will be available in the majority of countries where we can sell a streaming service.
Interview edited for clarity and length.