The news this morning says it’s coming fast. Bloomberg reports that CBS and Viacom will join together with CBS making a below-market, private bid that will reunite the two companies. Although both are largely owned by the Redstone family, the once-sister organizations split up 12 years ago for reasons not quite understood. Now, they look to be reuniting.
CBS owns the CBS television network (obviously) plus the CW, Showtime and a large back catalog of TV shows. Viacom owns Paramount Pictures and a bunch of cable channels including BET, CMT, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV. Put them back together and you have a powerhouse that comes close to rivaling ABC/Disney/ESPN in its control of the media universe.
And that, in my opinion, would seem to be the point. Disney is a massively powerful company right now and it’s possible it could get even more powerful if it is allowed to buy Fox and therefore control Hulu. CBS wants to become a key player in streaming and the best way to do this is with a massive content library. If Disney runs Hulu (which CBS has never been a part of) then CBS will need as much content as possible if it wants to turn its All Access service into a competitor. Right now, All Access costs about the same as Hulu and delivers far less.
If I’m right, this marks a big change in CBS’ attitudes. In the past its Chair Les Moonves has been a strong proponent of traditional broadcast television and hasn’t ever been a strong defender of streaming. He has taken every opportunity to speak out against any sort of evolution in the broadcast model, whether it was DISH’s Auto Hop or Aereo’s subscription antenna service. It would seem, however, now that Mr. Moonves has figured out a way for CBS to profit, his priorities have shifted.
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One interesting bit of this story concerns Star Trek, which you all knew I was going to bring up here. That program was actually created by Lucille Ball’s production company Desilu and originally aired on NBC. However, Paramount bought Desilu, Viacom (the original company) bought Paramount, and then things got interesting. Few remember that Star Trek was used at the turn of the century to launch the United Paramount Network (UPN) which eventually became part of “The CW.” Trek happily existed on TV and in movies because Paramount had their toes in both worlds. However, with the 2005-2006 breakup of the original Viacom into two parts (CBS and the company now called Viacom), Trek’s future seemed doubtful. For about a year it wasn’t even clear which company even owned StarTrek.com. The franchise left TV and movies alike for four years. The movie side was reinvigorated within a few years, It took nearly another decade to launch a TV show, however. This was largely due to complicated rules built into the breakup of the original Viacom. Even then, characters from the movies wouldn’t make it into the TV show because of the required cross-licensing deals.
Imagine if Paramount and CBS were once again part of the same stable. This would open the doors to supercharge Trek into a potential superfranchise. It could compete with Marvel in the adventure/sci-fi realm. There is no doubt in my mind that Star Trek could once again headline the new company’s balance sheets.
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That’s what it’s all about today. If you look at Disney, it’s not about one TV show or one character. It’s about taking that character and making it an indispensible part of culture. It’s about theme parks and 18-film-long story arcs and clothing and TV/movie crossover events. Interestingly, Paramount once owned several theme parks but sold them off in 2006. They may be regretting that decision now.
Ultimately, where I see this going is a massive battle between two titans. On the one side: Mickey, Hulk, and the NFL. On the other: Kirk, Sheldon Cooper and pretty much every musician. Will these two forces collide and cause an earth-shattering collapse of the entire entertainment industry? Will you just end up paying for yet another streaming service just to get one show? Only time will tell.