An old friend of mine, now a very successful TV producer, has been really busy of late, heavily into production of a reboot of the sitcom FRASIER. You may have heard of it; the first news of the revival occurred more than a year ago, but there have been a few delays with some rethinking of some plot lines, complex negotiations with some principal people and the usual Hollywood bullspit that tends to occur.
When the project was first hinted at, the entity that it was going to run on was called CBS All Access, and the corporate name of the company that made the announcement was ViacomCBS. On March 4rh, 2022, that service was rebranded as Paramount+, on the heels of the corporation’s name change to Paramount Global. Sure, it was yet again another +-labeled service, launched a bit after many others had entered the streaming fray. Good for a few jokes, even by some folks that appear(ed) regularly on it, like Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. But thanks to those shows and others, not to mention an excellent charter subscriber price, it has become one of my favorite destinations for online content. Look at my browser history for proof.
But yesterday, less than a year after the first rebrand, Paramount Global dropped this breaking news item, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported:
Goodbye, Showtime. Hello, Paramount+ With Showtime.
The premium television network is getting its first name change in the channel’s 47-year history, Paramount Global boss Bob Bakish announced to staffers Monday. The change, a nod to the company’s continued evolution as it adapts to the rapidly changing media landscape, will take effect later this year and be across both linear and streaming.
“With Showtime’s content integrated into our flagship streaming service … Paramount+ will become the definitive multiplatform brand in the streaming space — and the first of its kind to integrate streaming and linear content in this way,” Bakish wrote in his memo.
But as Deadline reported, Bakish’s chief lieutenant Chris McCarthy, who last year added Showtime’s linear network and studio to his portfolio of basic networks, offered a bit more detail and rationale that is perhaps a bit more concerning to those who work there:
I wanted to follow up on the great news Bob just shared about the further integration of SHOWTIME and Paramount+ to create one powerful streaming service, and explain why I am so excited about this big step forward.
There are many benefits for Paramount+ and SHOWTIME on both the streaming and network sides, in three key areas:
- Complementary and Differentiated Brands
- Redirecting Increased Investment into SHOWTIME Strengths
- Integrated Platform – Greater Focus on Content
McCarthy went on to justify those summative statements, likely discerned from brand research that occupied many nervous executives and aggressive consultants’ time over the last few months–which may be why their HR people have yet to follow up with yours truly on a couple of supposed openings. You can click on Deadline for them; my attention span waned as it went on. The same Deadline report from Peter White added this additional note from Bakish’s memo:
In terms of layoffs, Bakish added “change brings uncertainty for the teams working on these brands and businesses” and will share details in the coming weeks.
Mm hmm. That efficiency line, one that has already led to a flurry of cancellations of content and dismissals of those who produce, market and yes, research it, which has already set in at competitors like Warner Discovery, AMC and virtually all of Silicon Valley and Seattle sure sounds like it’s headed for Via–er, Paramount Global.
And in this daunting companion story, Showtime has already announced their intention to purge its platform of anything not popular or cost-effective enough to justify its continued offering versus the temptation of a tax writeoff, per Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter:
Add Showtime to the list of outlets who are pulling content from their streaming platforms.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the Paramount Global-backed cabler has pulled a number of short-lived, under-performing shows from its streaming platform. The list includes American Gigolo and Let the Right One In — both of which were canceled earlier Monday — as well as Jim Carrey vehicle Kidding, the first season of anthology Super Pumped, On Becoming a God in Central Florida and American Rust. Also vanishing from the Showtime streaming platform are seasons of acquired content including The End and Wakefield. Additional shows are likely included in the mass removal.
As for the mass removal, Showtime is expected to let the rights holders for the impacted programs shop the series. Let the Right One In, for example, is already being shopped. The affected titles will also be removed from Paramount+, where subscribers who pay for the bundled service with Showtime currently have access. They are likely to be removed from Paramount+ in the coming days.
Removing titles from streaming platforms has become a depressing trend over the past few months as conglomerates look to right-size budgets and cut costs. Removing completed seasons allows Showtime and their competitors to take a tax write-down on content as well as shop titles that are owned in-house to third-party buyers as many seek to monetize content that underperformed.
The net effect of all of this maneuvering is difficult to measure beyond the short-term cost savings. Whenever I’ve done research on what drives people to view and subscribe to a network or platform, it’s always been about the shows, not the brand. The reality is certain shows that are not populist have passionate fan bases and informed views that produce the kind of reactions like those expressed by The A.V. Club’ Sam Barsanti:
Showtime is dead. Long live… Paramount+ With Showtime. Premium cable has lost an icon today, with Deadline saying that Showtime set to be killed off and replaced with a newly rebranded network called Paramount+ With Showtime—which, let’s be clear, may be one of the worst rebrandings of all time. They could’ve called it The Paramount+ Network. They could’ve called it The Paramount Network 2: Premium Edition. They could’ve just called it Showtime!
I’ve already written previously about the overfocusing of marketing gurus on branding, including the ludicrous brainstorming sessions that revolved around the strongly desired renaming of The Family Channel by its new FOX ownership. one that actually lead to the testing of “Glue” (because it’s programming that sticks to you!) as an alternative. For a variety of legal reasons, the rebrand settled on a similarly awkward mashup to what Paramount+ with SHOWTIME is becoming, the underremembered FOX Family Channel, which became ABC Family after Disney purchased it, and only became relevant after that channel introduced programs viewers wanted to watch.
And even in less restricted environments like focus groups, I continue to see how inconsequential network names are. A few years back, I had the pleasure of teaching upper level students from the University of Miami during an immersion semester in Los Angeles. At the time, many binged on seasons of SHAMELESS, whose older episodes had been sold by Paramount to Netflix in a pre-All Access/Paramount+ (with or without SHOWTIME) era. Virtually none of them knew that the show was still in production for SHOWTIME, and brand new episodes had just premiered. A few weeks into the semester, we chatted about the new season’s plotlines, thanking me for tipping them off. I asked how they found them and they said they had to subscribe to “something else” that Netflix offered them. Few realized–or cared–they were actually becoming subscrbers to Showtime–and I didn’t ask whose password or linear TV authentication they were sharing to do so. They wound up subscribing because of the show, not any name or acknowledgement of “complimentary and differentiated brands”.
McCarthy and Paramount+ honcho (for now?) Tom Ryan are supposedly seeking franchises, and Showtime’s buzzier titles like THE CHI and YELLOWJACKETS might just invigorate Paramount+. Certainly, FRASIER, which has 264 episodes of the original incarnation that contribute to the corporate library, not to mention 200-plus episodes of its progenitor CHEERS, qualifies as such. But the fact that by the time the new version actually drops its platform will be in the midst of its THIRD name in as many years, with the corresponding challenges of educating consumers about it potentially diverting precious marketing resources to do so, it isn’t helping the daunting task ahead for it to break through the clutter.
90s comedy reboots are doing really well of late, thank you NIGHT COURT and THAT 90s SHOW, for reminding us of that. NBC and Netflix haven’t changed their names lately, and they’ve been found and embraced by a generation of target viewers eager for some comic relief. FRASIER could easily be another one, if indeed enough focus and effort is put into to telling people about it, rather than the name of the platform that will carry it.
And sitting out there like a hanging chad is the prospect of further consolidation and possible a completely new name, such as the one supposedly coming to HBO Max and Discovery+ (there’s that damn symbol again) later this year. Paramount Global also has a FAST channel platform, Pluto TV, which Ryan successfully launched before its purchase by CBS. If you’re looking for episodes of LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY to perhaps mourn yesterday’s passing of co-star Cindy Williams, you’ll find five seasons’ worth there. At this rate, the temptation of synergy, a volume of episodes that can produce traction and stickiness, and further cost efficiencies will likely result in some additional consolidation, and perhaps a new destination for the show down the road. Consolidation that will likely be needed in part because of the time and money to be spent on yet another rebrand.
I’m not sure what I’d call the decision-makers who have landed on this solution to rename a platform for the third time in three years. Legal reasons aside, these kind of moves don’t help them–or anyone else–with job security.
But I sure think Laverne And Shirley did.