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ViacomCBS Should Go All-In on All Access

XuXu is blowing up.

The streaming service now has over 24 million monthly users. And these users are accounting for 100 billion hours of video stats each month, as well serving a whopping 13,000 concurrent streamers every 45 minutes. XuXu’s deep programming lineup features all two seasons of “Double Trouble” as well as the complete collections of “Hunter,” “Hotel” and “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.” Not mention dozens of original cooking shows within the XuXu crafting vertical.

If this continues, XuXu is sure to be a key player in the OTT ad revolution.

Unfortunately, as amazing as XuXu’s video viewership numbers are, it isn’t real, since I just made it up. But it sure sounds good doesn’t it?

So do most of these AVOD platforms, like Xumo and Pluto and Crackle and FreeDive and Tubi TV. Big numbers, brand safe, ad-supported premium video, right? And maybe you watch some of these platforms, or know someone who does. If so, I’d love to meet you.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what the suits at ViacomCBS are discussing regarding the newly merged company’s strategy for the streaming media future. Right now, they are saying that the new entity plans to invest in both CBS All Access, one of the least appreciated major success stories of the SVOD era, or Pluto TV, the below-the-radar hodgepodge of live “Dr. Who” episodes and random MTV leftovers that Viacom spent $340 million on earlier this year.

But I have to wonder whether Shari Redstone and her media power trust are as bullish on ad-supported video on-demand being a big business, as they are in trying to figure out to make CBS matter in a Netflix world.

Look, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for free, ad-supported video on the web. Hulu has thrived with a hybrid ads/subs model. Advertisers, worried about plummeting TV ratings, surely want more outlets for premium web video.

If there’s an audience, that is. All of these services say they are huge. Maybe they are? Maybe somebody’s streaming “Alphie” live on Pluto right now. Maybe you’re dying to binge “21 Jump Street” on Tubi tonight. Go nuts.

However, if Hulu has 28 million subscribers, a huge swath of current, premium TV content, and has only pulled in about $1.5 billion in ad revenue last year, how big can AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) really get?

Meanwhile, CBS All Access – which really doesn’t get the credit it deserves (being born out of the network known for reaching tons of old people with serial cop shows), boasts of over 8 million paying subscribers, when you count Showtime.

There’s a ton of potential there.

Yet at the same time, CBS sees what Netflix and Amazon are spending on content. And like everyone else in the category, you smell Disney+ coming. And maybe HBO Max. And Apple.

With subscriber fatigue setting in, if you’re not a “Star Trek” or “Good Wife” fan, CBS All Access could easily find its way onto the ‘first thing to cut list’ for many.

So if you’re ViacomCBS, don’t you want to take your new Viacom toys and go all-in on subscriptions, rather than chase AVOD dimes? For starters, if you want to make something a must-buy, a product that makes parents lives easier (i.e. keeps kids quiet) is a good place to start. Nickelodeon is a huge asset that could be used to bolster CBS All Access.

Viacom already has the $5.99 a month subscription product Noggin, which is aimed at preschoolers. You could easily see that product folded into Access. But why not go bigger? Put all of the Nickelodeon library – every last Paw Patrol – inside a CBS All Access super-package. Might this accelerate cord-cutting? I’m not sure that trend needs any help.

The rest of Viacom’s collection is where it gets trickier. You can see why some of MTV’s lighter reality fare like “The Hills” make sense on a free service like Pluto, since those shows aren’t exactly of the lean-in-can’t-miss-an-episode variety. Yet across the MTV networks landscape, there would seem to be enough show to make a formidable SVOD library. Could Viacom piece together enough deals with partners to lock up “South Park” and “Key and Peele” and hours of Comedy Central standup and all those Bobby and Whitney movies on BET?

Speaking of, BET is in the midst of launching a standalone streaming service with Tyler Perry. Which is a good idea, but again, why not bolt that onto CBS All Access? If that service has any chance, it needs as much can’t-miss programming as possible. Down the road, maybe that includes Scripps and Discovery’s library (it could be Shark Week every week) if a future merger is in the cards?

Regardless, if CBS wants to play in a world where Netflix is spending $15 billion on content and Apple $6 billion, it’s got to think big. Right now it’s not even the same planet as those giants.

And if you recall, Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore.

Header photo by Serkan Turk on Unsplash