ViacomCBS Bets You Will Subscribe to 5 Or More Streaming Services, Leaving Plenty of Room for Paramount+

  • The most important slide in ViacomCBS's Paramount+ presentation Wednesday was one that suggested U.S. households would subscribe to five or more streaming services in the future.
  • It's unclear if that number will reach five or more since other media executives have said five will likely be the highest end of the range.
  • If ViacomCBS isn't right, and families only subscribe to three or four services on average, it may be forced to partner with another media company or look for a buyer.

ViacomCBS had a compelling presentation Wednesday to illustrate why TV lovers should sign up for its newly branded flagship streaming service, Paramount+.

But the most important point company executives referenced — one that will define the success of the service — came fairly late in the nearly 3-and-a-half-hour investor day event.

ViacomCBS showed a slide showing the uptick in the average amount of subscription streaming services to which American families subscribe. That number, the company said, has gone from 1-to-2 in 2016 to 2-to-3 in 2019 to 3-to-4 in 2020. ViacomCBS suggested it won't be long before households subscribe to five or more services.

While seemingly a throw-away comment to illustrate the growth in streaming, that one point is actually the crux of Paramount+'s argument for existence. It's highly unlikely millions of people are going to cancel Netflix, Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video to subscribe to Paramount+.

Can Paramount+ become the world's fourth most popular subscription streaming service, ahead of Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock and Discovery+? Maybe. But it's far more likely it will slowly trudge along with all of those other services to pick up subscribers. CBS All Access, the company's current streaming offering that makes up much of the core of Paramount+, has existed for years and failed to break out as a must-have streaming platform. Combined with Showtime, the two services have about 30 million subscribers (19.2 million in the US).

That puts Paramount+'s starting position in the same pack as many others. Last month, NBCUniversal said Peacock had 33 million sign-ups. HBO Max announced it had 37.7 million subscribers. Disney's Hulu has nearly 40 million.

It's a far cry from Disney+'s 95 million subscribers or Netflix's 200 million. By 2024, ViacomCBS estimates 65 million to 75 million subscribers will pay for either Showtime or Paramount+.

There's no certainty U.S. households are actually going to sign up for five or more streaming services. Former WarnerMedia CEO and current AT&T CEO John Stankey guessed "four or five." Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch said "four to six." Hulu's director of product management, Jason Wong, said "three to five."

ViacomCBS is betting its company on that number coming in high. If not, it probably has two options: merge or partner with another media company or look for a buyer.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

WATCH: CNBC's full interview with ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish

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