CBS and Viacom merger was completed in December. Post the acquisition, the Company generates 37% of its Revenue from CBS (primarily CBS and CW Broadcast stations), 34% from Cable Networks (Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV), 11% from Paramount (movie and TV studio), 8% from Showtime, and 7% from Local Media (Owned and Operated affiliates). The Company generates 40% of sales from advertising, 31% from Affiliate fees (subscription fees), and 23% from licensing its content (to 3rd party providers).
Cord cutting is accelerating. Cord cutting impacts all their business lines. Fewer subscribers means less in affiliate fees. Fewer subscribers means fewer potential viewers which means pressure on advertising revenue. Fewer subscribers means less ability to create a new hit show which will ultimately hit licensing revenue.
Decline of Linear TV in General Entertainment
OTT competition from Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Disney, You Tube, etc. is resulting in significantly falling viewership for linear programming outside of sports and news (that is best watched Live). Viacom’s cable Networks (Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV) are general entertainment. Worse, these channels are geared towards a younger audience that is abandoning linear TV at a faster rate. As a result, rating for the cable networks are declining 15%-20%.
Ratings for CBS Broadcast are much more volatile around sports (for example, whether they have the rights to SuperBowl or Final Four). Absent sports, however, CBS ratings are similarly declining double digits.
Historically, online has primarily taken dollars from Newspapers and Magazines. There is now significantly less $s available to take from these mediums. Increasingly, advertising dollars will be forced out of TV consistent with the shift of eyeballs. With ratings falling double digits, it is unsustainable for TV to continue to raise CPMs by double digits to largely offset. That historical equation leads to falling Return on Advertising spend.
CBS’ Business Model is Increasingly Reliant on Sports Content that it Licenses. Sports Inflation Will Result in Falling Margins for the Broadcast Network
As general entertainment ratings fall faster than live content, the linear TV ecosystem becomes increasingly reliant on sports content. This creates increased leverage for the sports leagues that own the content. Nothing is more important to the linear TV ecosystem than the NFL. Rights to the NFL end after the 2021-2022 season for the Broadcast Networks. The current contract was negotiated ahead of the 2014-2015 season. Since that time, affiliate revenues for the Broadcast Networks have substantially increased and the NFL has even more leverage. The NFL will likely get a material lift in its annual payment. We are seeing this across sports leagues that are in less demand than the NFL. A 65% increase in the cost of the NFL would cost CBS $750mm of incremental expense annually.
CBS is already scheduled to lose CBS Football to ESPN in 2024. That CBS contract at $55mm annually was purchased for over $300mm per year. That legacy CBS contract was likely one of the most lucrative in sports. For example, CBS was a paying a fraction of what it pays for PGA Golf. While CBS will no longer have this expense, it will result in ratings pressure and less leverage in affiliate negotiations. It also results in the NFL having even more leverage against CBS in the NFL negotiations.
As media networks lock in higher sports costs, it forces price hikes on distributors in the form of affiliate fees. Distributors are then forced to raise prices on consumers accelerating cord cutting. As the cost goes up, increasingly subscribers will only be die hard sports and news fans, resulting in fewer subscribers overall and resulting in less leverage for CBS’ general entertainment cable networks.
COVID is a Material Risk to Viacom
Increased COVID cases could result in the suspension of the NFL and college football this fall. Sports are ~10% of total viewership on TV in the fall. It is even more impactful in terms of ad spending because the NFL’s broadcast window generates the most expensive commercial unit rates in the business. Sports advertisers are attracted to the ability to efficiently reach a large portion of US consumers. What is most negative, however, is that if sports were not to occur in the fall, it would likely lead to significant acceleration in cord cutting with many of these customers never coming back.