“In 2020 we did more than 600 deals, and the bulk were with local clients.” So began VideoAge’s Zoom interview with Dan Cohen, president, Viacom CBS Global Distribution Group, who spoke with VideoAge from his Los Angeles base, under the vigilant watch of Jennifer Weingroff, the Group’s vice president of Communications.
Indeed, it’s been business as usual at the large U.S. studio that encompasses Paramount Pictures, local CBS TV stations, the CBS network, Showtime, and CBS All Access (now Paramount Plus), among many other units and di-visions, including distribution of Miramax’s movies.
Cohen concluded a very refreshing and all-encompassing interview with more business-as-usual assertions, reminding Video-Age’s readers that “TV trade shows are still important, especially the L.A. Screenings, MIPCOM, and NATPE Miami,” and that he still plans to “support other markets like MIP-TV, NATPE Budapest, and ATF.”
In between those two reassuring statements, Cohen touched upon several other topics, including windowing, licensing rights, theatrical releases, content output, sales revenue, and licensing strategy shifts vis a vis the streamers.
As for licensing rights, he expanded on exclusivity, non-exclusivity, co-exclusivity, territorial, and language deals.
For windowing, Cohen acknowledged that, in general, the periods are shorter and can go for as short as one month at a time for AVoD, to as long as four years for other rights with multiple runs.
As for his division’s output in the international marketplace, Cohen expects 2021 to return to 2019 levels, plus is counting on the over 4,000 films and 140,000 TV episodes that are in his catalog.
In addition to content provided by the group’s vast production divisions, he also distributes third-party content like MRC Television’s comedic drama, The Great. “And we’re also in the format licensing business,” he said, before stressing that “distribution is an important part of ViacomCBS’s overall corporate ecosystem. We represent about 25 percent of the company’s revenue. For 2021 the volume will continue to be constant or increase, but the revenue will be the same.”
He also explained, that “the bulk of the job remains licensing on the ground to local clients. We have 24 international offices and 40 international sales people. It’s the biggest part of our business.”
Streaming is still licensing (“it brings revenue, right?”), and in Cohen’s view, it doesn’t take content away from the marketplace. “We do license differently,” he acknowledged, explaining that they are leaning toward shorter deals and shifting to co-exclusivity and non-exclusivity, and that only the first pay window for movies tends to be exclusive — usually in the three-year range — but he’ll “entertain shorter deal requests” if the circumstances are right.
“Most of our revenue is still from traditional clients,” Cohen said. “We do over 600 deals a year with nearly 1,000 clients and most of those are local clients. That’s why we go to the MIPs. If I had to license just to Netflix or Amazon, they’re in Los Angeles, and for them I don’t need to attend international TV trade shows.” He then continued: “I love to go to the markets and go see the clients on their own home turf.”
He expanded on the subject: “We embrace new business models. We’re doing more deals that are shorter, and leaning towards non-exclusive and co-exclusive licensing. We do a lot of licensing in AVoD, especially for library content. It is a fast-growing sector, using revenue-sharing and straight licensing. Both models are good. In home entertainment we have done a lot of PVoD deals.”
Touching on the number of runs offered, he said that they vary, adding, “I’m not concerned with the number of runs for on demand as I might be for broadcast or basic cable.”
As for licensing territorial rights versus language rights, Cohen explained that his company does a bit of both. “For movies, we usually give territorial rights, and first pay is usually territorial, while for library material, language rights are appropriate.”
In terms of theatrical releases, Cohen assured that for 2021 his firm will “continue to be committed to theatrical distribution, and our output of 15 to 18 movies a year has been very consistent since Jim Gianopulos took over Paramount Pictures in 2017.” (This is also the year that Cohen joined Paramount Pictures’ Television Distribution division after 20 years at Disney.)
He reiterated that he and his colleagues “remain completely committed to theatrical distribution. We even moved the release dates of a few movies because fundamentally we believe they have to be seen in theaters. After that my team will have them for home entertainment and television. As for the shorter theatrical window, it has been speculated — we have not made a pronouncement yet — but we’ll expect some shortening of window.”
One aspect of the distribution business that Cohen is very enthusiastic about is the format business. He elaborated, explaining that one of the benefits of CBS’s 2019 decision to re-merge with Viacom to form ViacomCBS “is that we now have an executive named Paul Gilbert. He’s a legend, and format is a big business for us.” He continued: “Right now the format business comes mainly from the CBS side. Some of our series are generating more revenue from the format’s international rights than the U.S. show. But, we’re looking to do some format work for Paramount Television for some of the IP they control.”
Finally, Cohen again touched on the touchy subject of TV trade shows. “Markets are important,” he said, “but I’m not sure all of them remain completely necessary. Look, we’re in the entertainment business and there is no better way to get people excited [about a new product] than by showing them what they’re buying in person at a market. But if I had to pick the ones I feel the strongest about, one would be the L.A. Screenings. MIPCOM and NATPE Miami are also vital.” That said, he maintained that he planned to “support the markets in general.” He then concluded: “My expectation is that MIPCOM will be the first in-person market of 2021.”
(By Dom Serafini)
Audio Version (a DV Works service)