CBS, on the heels of losing NFL Thursday Night Football to Fox, is meeting today to reportedly discuss recombining with Viacom.
According to Reuters, the CBS board meeting is a regularly scheduled event and may not produce any material developments regarding a remerger with Viacom, from which CBS split in 2006. But the meeting may signal CBS is becoming more welcoming to the idea of teaming back up with cable programmer Viacom.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that National Amusements’ Shari Redstone—whose company owned controlling stakes in both CBS and Viacom—has rekindled her interest in the remerger as a form of “bulking up” as Disney is buying most of Fox’s entertainment assets and a number of other media consolidation deals are in the works. Redstone is also reportedly concerned about long-term planning at CBS and the lack of a clear successor for current CEO Les Moonves.
For CBS, the recombination discussions may have taken on a new wrinkle as the network will no longer have NFL Thursday Night Football among its programming. Fox and NFL this week confirmed a new deal that will put 11 Thursday games on Fox each season for the next five years.
CBS appeared confident that its Thursday night lineup would continue to thrive without the NFL, and noted that its Sunday games were still in the mix.
“We explored a responsible bid for Thursday Night Football but in the end are very pleased to return to entertainment programming on television’s biggest night,” said CBS in a statement. “We currently have the two most watched shows on Thursday, including the #1 show on television in ‘Big Bang Theory,’ and the #1 new show on television in ‘Young Sheldon.’ At the same time, we look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons, with more than 100 games per season including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”
But media industry analyst Rich Greenfield, pointing toward strategic plan CBS outlined two years ago, questioned whether CBS could maintain strong retrans and reverse revenue growth, leverage in skinny bundle negotiations, and advertising revenue growth without the NFL.
“If CBS starts losing NFL rights, nobody will believe the long-term retrans/reverse retrans revenue growth trajectory (March Madness and the Grammys are simply not enough, let alone the falling value of primetime entertainment programming). Gaining access to 'Skinny Bundles' would be put in jeopardy by the loss of marquee sports rights, as well as demand for over-the-top, direct-to-consumer services such as CBS All-Access,” Greenfield said in a research note. “Without the ratings prowess of sports (which is used to market the primetime schedule), most notably the NFL, CBS’ advertising business will suffer, even as it tries to leverage data to drive audience monetization.”
Added Greenfield, “Essentially, the CBS story hinges on maintaining access to must-watch sports rights, particularly the NFL. Yet, without far greater scale, CBS’ risk of losing NFL rights is growing quickly.”