• Garrett Dozier

ViacomCBS Commits to Theatrical Releases Amid Pandemic


Kate Munsch/Reuters.

On Thursday, August 6, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish presented the company’s second quarter earnings and explained their plan for the distribution of film and TV content over the next few months, and potentially the rest of the pandemic. Following the historic deal between NBCUniversal and AMC Theaters, competing film studios will need to re-assess their approach to releases as the playing field has drastically changed. The deal allows the NBCUniversal’s films to be released on-demand only a mere 17 days after they air in theaters, vastly different from the usual 3-4 months. With theaters closed and movie streaming skyrocketing, studios have been left with a tough choice: do they jump on the bandwagon and embrace the new norm, or do they stay hopeful that things will return to normal shortly?

While primarily involved in TV, ViacomCBS has a large stake in the film industry as well, owning studios like Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation. Bakish stated that his primary goal was “protecting asset value,” meaning saving key films for a later theatrical release and creating a select stream of films to release on-demand to satisfy viewers. On top of this, ViacomCBS plans to produce a new Spongebob movie exclusively for their rebranded CBS All Access streaming service, set to air in 2021.

Practices such as this are becoming more and more common as streaming services compete for dominance and COVID-19 dictates the market. Bakish expressed his expectation that “new monetization paths, including both strategic ones and others, will probably become more common.”

In the realm of TV, ViacomCBS also owns popular channels such as MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, Showtime, Comedy Central and more. While late night hosts such as Stephen Colbert and James Corden will be returning next week without a live audience, other productions are taking a slower approach to resuming. Bakish stated that the company is using a phased approach based primarily on “geography, show format, in-studio versus location-based productions and other factors.” He stressed that while not at top speed, productions were certainly ramping up. For example, studios such as Nickelodeon have begun filming live-action sitcoms in Canada, where risk is lower.

Whether or not ViacomCBS’s plans will prove fruitful is yet to be seen, but the studio is pushing forward with production plans and aims to be one of the top content providers emerging from the pandemic.