Two of the biggest entertainment events of the weekend could have been Paramount Plus exclusives: Oprah’s highly anticipated interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, and Eddie Murphy’s eagerly awaited Coming 2 America. Instead, the former is now only available on CBS’s website (free) and the latter is streaming exclusively on Amazon.
For a company whose executives just touted the vital importance of leaning into streaming, having launched Paramount Plus within days of the interview and film being released, not finding a way to have one or the other — or both, ideally — available on demand is head-scratch worthy.
One absence is more understandable than the other. Harpo (Oprah’s production company) did not make the streaming video on-demand rights available to ViacomCBS, The Verge has learned. The interview was available on Paramount Plus as live programming, but there’s no replay available for subscribers.
Their interview became the most streamed event outside of NFL games and the Super Bowl, according to ViacomCBS, but without any context, that statement doesn’t provide any accurate measurement. The interview also garnered an average of 17.1 million linear viewers on Sunday (a truly impressive number considering appointment television becomes more and more of a relic with each new streaming service). Based on that figure, and conversation on social media, it was a pretty big deal.
ViacomCBS actually made out quite well even without the interview being on Paramount Plus. The special brought in roughly $325,000 for a 30-second ad, according to the Los Angeles Times, and is now playing ad-supported on CBS’s website and app. (The rights for something airing as a digital video on a free site and the rights to have it as an exclusive title for a longer period of time on a streaming service are different.) This means the interview could wind up on a different streaming service, but CBS’s digital website will have the interview for 30 days. All of which is great for CBS’s traditional television business, but not great for a company that has spent the last year touting the importance of its brand-new streaming platform.
As Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk tweeted, “Imagine launching a streaming service, having a wildly popular interview that same week available only through your streaming service, and then having the interview disappear from your platform entirely the second it’s done airing.”
It’s a short-term sacrifice play. Obviously, ViacomCBS would have liked to own the streaming rights to drive subscribers to Paramount Plus. But ViacomCBS did not have the upper hand. If CBS passed, Harpo could have gone to ABC (Disney) or NBC (Comcast) instead. Plus, based on a quick Google Trends search and scrolling through Twitter, people did sign up for Paramount Plus through the free trial for the interview. The question is whether or not people will stick around after those initial seven days.
Remember, the key to understanding most companies’ streaming philosophies is exciting new content brings subscribers in, but it’s fan-favorite TV series and films that keep people paying month after month. That’s what makes the decision to not carry Coming 2 America, the sequel to Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, even more confounding.
Some important context to consider: ViacomCBS sold the film to Amazon in October during a period when the company was selling off a number of its films while theaters were closed or operating at limited capacity. Trial of the Chicago 7 and Lovebirds both went to Netflix, netting Paramount between $75 and $85 million for both. Paramount also sold Without Remorse to Amazon, alongside Coming 2 America.
For several of the films, it made sense. CBS All Access wasn’t a major investment for ViacomCBS compared to Paramount Plus, and the company needed to generate revenue for movies just sitting on a shelf. The majority of these movies also came out prior to Paramount Plus’ launch. If the original intention was to release Coming 2 America between mid-December and January, why not just push it back to March and make it a debut title?
Coming 2 America was released the same weekend as Paramount Plus. It could have been used to bring in subscribers, like A Quiet Place II and Mission Impossible 7, which are leaving movie theaters early and landing on Paramount Plus just 45 days after release. Instead of leveraging the film, ViacomCBS wound up competing with Amazon for attention. Not having the movie is one less reason for people to sign up for Paramount Plus.
As one former executive at a rival studio told The Verge, “Paramount has been dysfunctional for 15 years, but … I’m speechless at how inept and stupid Paramount has been.”
Oh, and in terms of where Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry might end up after all is said and done? Keep an eye on Discovery Plus. Oprah has a stake in the company, and OWN is part of the Discovery family. It’s just the thing Discovery Plus would love to have.