NOV. 19, 2021
By Nicole Bitette
“The real winning formula here is combining this great sports portfolio with the broad-based entertainment selection of content all in one service. Ultimately, this makes Paramount+ a streaming service that appeals to the whole household.”
The return of the NFL season and the UEFA Champions League were major subscriber-drivers to Paramount+ this fall, illustrating that ViacomCBS’ recent deals with some of the biggest sports leagues are key to the company’s streaming success.
“The reason that we know that people will want to subscribe to us and how we're different is that we combine our linear-first sports content with the streaming-first sports content,” says Jeff Gerttula, EVP and GM of CBS sports digital. According to Gerttula, sports are one of the three differentiators to Paramount+, which boasts live sports, breaking news, and a mountain of entertainment as a product offering.
In an interview from the ViacomCBS video series Streaming On, Gerttula shares with host Dometi Pongo what games and leagues are bringing subscribers to Paramount+. Plus, he reveals the big sports moments to look forward to this year. Below is a condensed version of the interview.
Dometi Pongo: What have been some of the biggest drivers to Paramount+ this season?
Jeff Gerttula: We've been really pleased with how sports have been performing this year, particularly heading into a big fall. We've seen a lot of growth in engagement in our streaming services, particularly across football and soccer. The NFL season started with a bang. It's done really well on linear and it’s doing really well on streaming, too, and it's been the top acquisition driver for Paramount+ subscriptions through the year. Subscribers can watch NFL on CBS in their local markets on Paramount+ and through the first 10 weeks of the NFL season, we've seen significant growth, double-digit growth in all viewers in minutes.
On the soccer side, UEFA Champions League has been at the forefront of our success. We've had a really good start. The first eight match days have been the biggest eight days of soccer on the service yet. We've got great momentum and then we've got CONCACAF Men's World Cup qualifiers that features the U.S. men's national team. They're coming into their own, fans are interested. It's delivered strong results for us, so we're excited for what the future holds.
Storytelling is also a critical piece... We tell really interesting stories around players, around teams, around the kind of moments that we think fans will really want to watch."
EVP and GM, CBS Sports Digital
DP: Can you break down the NFL's deal and what role the NFL plays in the Paramount Plus sports offering? What makes it unique on Paramount+?
JG: The NFL is, first and foremost, a critical pillar to our broader sports programming across linear and digital, which is massive. Fans can watch live NFL on CBS Local Market Games on Sunday afternoons within Paramount+. In addition to that, now Paramount+ features Inside the NFL, which is in its 45th season. That's another exclusive original piece of programming that gives you behind-the-scenes, mic'd up players. As well, the partnership that we've developed between CBS Sports and Nickelodeon really underscores the power of ViacomCBS and how we can bring our brands together to expand audiences. This year, we're going to have NFL Slime Time, which is an all new NFL half-hour weekly series on Nickelodeon. It's available on Paramount+ the following day.
DP: Why is the investment in soccer so important to the growth of the platform, in the U.S. and internationally?
JG: We started our adventure into international soccer coverage just over a year ago, and we did it with the belief that the soccer audience being young, diverse, and super passionate was a perfect fit for our streaming strategy. The strategy to acquire that audience has been focused on building out a comprehensive package with a range of competitions—big and small, domestic and international, men's and women's—that we assemble the pieces to maximize engagement across months. The collection of assets that we have runs 12 months, afternoons, evenings, weekdays, and weekends with the goal of making our soccer product a must-have service for soccer fans year-round.
DP: Can you talk about why Paramount+ has so many different deals with multiple leagues and conferences?
JG: It's a mix of making sure that we're thinking about it from a calendar perspective—looking at months and different slots during the week that we want to have matches—but then also reaching different audiences knowing that, for example, the soccer audience is not a homogenous group.
“The beauty of the portfolio is that there are always big things around the corner.”
DP: What are some of the other reasons that consumers want to stream Paramount+ instead of—or in addition to—other platforms out there?
JG: The reason that we know that people will want to subscribe to us and how we're different is that we combine our linear first sports content with the streaming first sports content. That lets us get the best of the best. And then we're also coupling that with streaming-first acquisitions on the soccer side as you wait for Champions League, Serie A, Concacaf, NWSL, which are more specific to streaming. Then, you build the additional kind of non-live sports content like Inside the NFL and free streaming channels like CBS Sports HQ. The formula for success includes all of that, put it into one service that bundles entertainment products. Storytelling is also a critical piece. We deliver live matches, but we also have great storytelling. We tell really interesting stories around players, around teams, around the kind of moments that we think fans will really want to watch.
DP: What are some lessons from the last year that may inform the sports programming strategy moving forward?
JG: Every time you have an idea and you see it in practice, you learn from it, you learn what requires and what retains. You're going to have things that exceed expectations, things that come in under your expectations. But everything is a step towards getting smarter, towards better understanding your audience, towards better understanding. We think about the brand and what the expectations are for that audience.
DP: What are some of those big events that consumers can look forward to in the next few months?
JG: We've got a nice Thanksgiving Day game with the Las Vegas Raiders against the Dallas Cowboys. Let's say an old school classic right there. We’ll have five playoff games on CBS for the NFL. It's two wild card games, and one of those wild card games is going to simulcast on Nickelodeon. We will have playoff games up to the AFC Championship Game. Then in soccer, we have the remainder of the Champions League season. Early results have been great. They're huge matchups. It never stops, keeps going. And the beauty of the portfolio is that there are always big things around the corner.