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ViacomCBS Jumps 16% on Surge in Streaming Viewers, YouTube Deal

Gerry Smith
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ViacomCBS Jumps 16% on Surge in Streaming Viewers, YouTube Deal

(Bloomberg) -- ViacomCBS Inc. shares rose as much as 16% on a surge in streaming subscriptions among homebound viewers during the coronavirus pandemic, along with a new distribution deal with YouTube.

The increase at ViacomCBS echoes the huge recent gains at Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+. The New York company said its two paid services, CBS All Access and Showtime OTT, delivered record subscribers, sign-ups and consumption, with subscribers surpassing 13.5 million, up 50% year-over-year. Its free streaming service, Pluto TV, saw monthly active users grow to 24 million.

The shares gained as much as $2.38 to $17.26 in New York trading. They were down 65% this year through Wednesday.

On an earnings call, ViacomCBS Chief Executive Officer Bob Bakish said the company is accelerating plans to roll out an expanded streaming service that will combine Viacom and CBS programming, citing “major changes coming this summer.”

ViacomCBS faces a crowded field in streaming, with most other major media companies having already introduced their own competitors to Netflix. And ViacomCBS didn’t share many key details, like how much it will charge for the service or when exactly it will come out.

While ViacomCBS’s quarterly profit beat analysts’ estimates, investors are also likely celebrating a new distribution deal the company announced Thursday morning with Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube TV. The agreement adds 14 of its channels to YouTube’s online TV service, which has more than 2 million subscribers. With advertising sales in trouble due to a pandemic-fueled recession, investors like the certainty that comes with added subscriber revenue from a new pay-TV deal.

The YouTube pact will immediately add about 2 percentage points to ViacomCBS’s U.S. affiliate revenue, or the carriage fees it receives from cable operators, Evercore analyst Vijay Jayant said in a note.

“More broadly, we view the news as a positive indicator of the affiliate strategy of the combined company, which is seeking to leverage the must-have CBS content to get better distribution for the Viacom channels,” Jayant said.

Still, Covid-19 spoiled the party for ViacomCBS’s first full quarter as a combined company. Revenue declined, driven by a 19% drop in advertising sales. While that’s partly due to a tough comparison to last year when CBS aired the Super Bowl, it also reflects the fact that another major sports event that CBS broadcasts -- the March Madness college basketball tournament -- was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

ViacomCBS expects a “significant impact” on advertising sales in the current quarter as marketers pull back spending due to the recession, though the company didn’t try to quantify how much revenue would fall. Bakish cited the upcoming return of some sports, like professional golf in June, as a positive for advertising and said the annual upfront ad market will be later and longer than normal due to the pandemic.

“We believe there will be an improvement on advertising in the third and fourth quarter -- assuming businesses begin to reopen at scale,” Bakish said.

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