Viacom jumps into European OTT frenzy, but there’s a cable catch

Viacom Media Networks International has announced it is developing its own SVoD service called Paramount+ for the Nordics, as the US content titan looks to Europe to grow its brand engagement while its home viewership continues to shrink – a prediction Faultline Online Reporter made just two weeks ago.

Paramount+ will be launching in Denmark, Norway and Sweden on October 1. However, there is one distinct catch in that the service will only be made available to existing pay TV subscribers of five major cable operators – Com Hem in Sweden, TDC’s cable subsidiary YouSee in Denmark, Get in Norway, and Canal Digital in both Norway and Sweden.

This mirrors a successful strategy taken up by Netflix which saw it partner with the pay TV operators across Europe rather than trying to compete with them. Although, notably, Netflix and HBO have not signed deals with the Nordic operators, but instead Netflix has found favor with Liberty Global in over 30 countries, while HBO has always had to strike a balance between serving its existing cable partners and building direct to consumer relationships.

HBO struggled in the Nordics when it rushed out an offering to compete with Netflix in 2012, which was low on content with a simplistic UI, but recent improvements have seen HBO increase its market share, but it remains about a third of the size of Netflix in the region.

YouSee is the only distribution partner to comment on the announcement so far, with Media Director Christian Morgan saying that Paramount+ will be available on the YouSee TV set top and multiscreen apps for its TV Everywhere service You See Play, but a “large part” of Paramount content will also be added to its linear TV channels.

That makes it a win-win situation if linear deals are part and parcel of the launch across the board as, crucially, none of the Nordic partner operators run their own standalone OTT video operations, meaning Paramount+ is well positioned to act as a complementary offering rather than a cannibalization tool.

Canal Digital parent company Telenor originally launched paid OTT as Comoyo in 2011 but this was axed in 2013, and it now offers the TV Everywhere service Canal Digital Go, while Norwegian cable operator Get offers the Get TV app free to TV and broadband subscribers.

Com Hem does not have an OTT service as such, but a multiscreen version of its cable TV service Com Hem Play, part of a technology turnaround facilitated by a TiVo UI and the installation of a hybrid IP/QAM service which helped the Swedish operator gain TV customers by embracing multiscreen and IP.

A Faultline Online Reporter analysis of Telefonica’s recently rumored plans to launch a European Netflix rival pointed to Viacom as a potential wild card to step into the European OTT ring, as many other US majors are unable to do so due to being tied up with licensing regulations.

Telefonica’s plans to spend big on original content to target the UK and German markets, with potential for further expansion, were fully expected to encourage media companies to get the ball rolling on any OTT video ambitions they may have in the pipeline, but we did not expect Viacom to react so quickly. This snowballing effect looks set to trigger some serious disruption in the coming months and Viacom’s strategy could see it take up a major role, potentially beyond the Nordics.

Viacom has come under increasing pressure as there has been a declining interest in its US channels such as MTV, and the company is aiming to increase its global engagement. Yet Viacom has the opposite dilemma to traditional TV players, as the bulk of its content appeal is stuck in the 18 to 34 age bracket – another reason its decision to team with cable operators instead of launching a standalone offering makes sense.

The service will include new movies from Viacom’s studio Paramount Pictures and more than 800 episodes of content from MTV and Comedy Central. Paramount+ users will have access to a first pay TV window for new Paramount movies including Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Allied, Fences, Monster Trucks, Rings, Brother Nature, Goat and xXx: Return of Xander Cage. The service will also include Paramount’s on-demand library of MTV and Comedy Central shows such as Inside Amy Schumer, Geordie Shore, Broad City, Teen Mom and South Park.

Viacom plans to bulk up on movies a few months down the line including Baywatch, Ghost in the Shell, Transformers: The Last Knight and Mother!.

Andrea Sahlgren, SVP and GM of Viacom Media Networks International Nordics, said, “Paramount+ is a groundbreaking concept for us and an important extension of our pay TV offer to our linear distribution partners. It’s the first time we’re aggregating first run movie rights with our TV content under the Paramount brand for SVoD access, available for our pay TV operators only. It’s the perfect complement to our existing linear TV and VoD offerings and will meet unrivaled demand from viewers in all the Nordic countries to be able to watch their favorite TV shows and movies when, where and on whatever device they want.”