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ViacomCBS is renamed Paramount in a nod to its past and streaming future

The Paramount Pictures gate in Los Angeles in 2016.
The rebranding comes two years after Chairwoman Shari Redstone formed ViacomCBS by reuniting her late father’s Viacom media company with legendary broadcasting company CBS. Above, Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision)
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ViacomCBS has renamed itself Paramount in a nod to the company’s historic moviemaking past — and its streaming future.

Chairwoman Shari Redstone announced the name change this week during a virtual investor day to share the company’s strategy and upcoming programming.

The New York-based media conglomerate is placing a huge bet on streaming with its nearly year-old Paramount+ service, which added 7.3 million subscribers during the fourth quarter. Paramount+ now has 32.8 million subscribers and is projected to grow to 100 million subscribers worldwide by 2024.

The rebranding comes two years after Redstone formed ViacomCBS by reuniting her late father’s Viacom media company with legendary broadcasting company CBS. Since then, executives have worked to integrate operations and sell CBS assets, including the Simon & Schuster book publishing house, CBS’ iconic Manhattan skyscraper and historic CBS Radford television lot in Studio City, to help finance streaming operations.

“Our strategy has always been to harness the strength of our traditional business to build something new,” Redstone told investors Tuesday from Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York, the original movie studio home more than a century ago. “Paramount was always at the core of this vision. Today we are thrilled to announce that ViacomCBS has become Paramount Global, or simply Paramount.”

The pivot underscores the challenges that media companies face as they try to market their programming directly to consumers, rather than rely on their traditional partners, such as movie theater chains and pay-TV distributors.

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The rebranding also demonstrates how ViacomCBS and other traditional firms are attempting to straddle two worlds: running legacy businesses that still provide the majority of profits while competing with deep-pocketed technology giants Netflix, Amazon and Apple. Paramount also must keep pace with longtime and larger rivals, including Warner Bros., NBCUniversal and Walt Disney Co.

Shari Redstone in 2017.
Shari Redstone announced that ViacomCBS would now be known as Paramount Global.
(Evan Agostini / Invision)

Investors expressed skepticism, in part because of weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings.

Viacom’s revenue grew 15% to $8 billion in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier, while profit grew to $2 billion, up from $810 million a year earlier.

On Wednesday, ViacomCBS Class B shares, which switch Thursday to the ticker PARA, plummeted 17.8% to $29.58.

Investors seem worried by the company’s ability to boost spending on content for Paramount+ as the company’s traditional networks — CBS, Nickelodeon, BET, MTV and Comedy Central — are grappling with audience erosion. ViacomCBS spent $2.2 billion last year on streaming programming and expects to invest $6 billion for streaming content in 2024.

“As content expense for the company keeps growing, we anticipate further pressure on free cash flow in the next couple of years before the [direct-to-consumer] segment is able to reduce its losses,” MoffettNathanson media analyst Robert Fishman wrote in a Wednesday report.

ViacomCBS’ presentation a day earlier was heavy in symbolism. In a prerecorded video to launch the event, Redstone and ViacomCBS Chief Executive Bob Bakish were depicted racing through city streets in a yellow hot-rod, Bumblebee, a robot character from “Transformers.”

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Warming to the role, Redstone later said the company was continuing a strategy that her father set in motion decades ago with his 1987 corporate takeover of cable programming company Viacom that included MTV, Nickelodeon and Showtime.

In 1994, Sumner Redstone achieved his dream of becoming a major player in Hollywood with Viacom’s $10-billion acquisition of Paramount Pictures, a deal that nearly bankrupted Viacom.

By the end of that decade, the mogul had acquired CBS for its television and radio assets.

Shari Redstone teamed up with her father six years ago to thwart an attempt by former Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman to sell a 49% stake in the Paramount movie studio to Chinese investors. That led the way for Redstone’s daughter to shake up management of her father’s two companies and ultimately merge them. Sumner Redstone died in August 2020.

Redstone’s lasting imprint will be accelerating media consolidation and hard-fought battles to build, then maintain his empire.

Aug. 12, 2020

The investor day presentation included appearances with top Paramount talent, including directors J.J. Abrams and Taylor Sheridan and actor Tom Cruise, who touted his 37-year relationship with the Melrose Avenue studio.

Cruise stopped short of mentioning the 2006 episode when Sumner Redstone famously fired him out of frustration that the superstar actor was making too much money.

Cruise, who became a breakout star in Paramount’s 1986 film, “Top Gun,” predicted the highly anticipated installment: “Top Gun: Maverick,” which has been delayed by the pandemic, would live up to the hype when it is released this summer. Cruise showed a clip from an upcoming installment of his other breakout role, “Mission: Impossible.” Production of the seventh and eighth installments is underway.

Bakish announced that films released by Paramount Pictures would be steered to Paramount+ when the studio’s current licensing pact expires. Paramount films have been directed to MGM’s Epix.

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Chief Executive Brian Robbins announced the company was bringing back beloved Nickelodeon character “Dora the Explorer.” Chris McCarthy, president of entertainment and youth brands, said Comedy Central’s animated series “South Park” would move to Paramount+ in 2025.

Abrams announced that, by year’s end, he would begin filming another version of “Star Trek,” starring Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto.

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The company also said it has renewed the hugely popular “Yellowstone” prequel “1883” to supply more episodes for Paramount+, and greenlit another prequel to the western that focuses on the fictional Dutton family, “1932,” set during the Great Depression.

In addition, CBS Studios will expand the “NCIS” franchise for Paramount+, and create a “Seal Team” movie for the streaming service.

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