CBS’s Subramanyam: Live Still Thrives In Pandemic
The COVID-19 lockdowns helped generate wide speculation that linear TV will reach an inflection point, with digital viewership outpacing its ratings, sooner than predicted. OTT consumption certainly soared at the outset of the pandemic, but even if such numbers are sustained, or continue to grow incrementally, digital probably won’t put a nail in linear TV’s coffin for quite some time — it’s still the go-to for live broadcasts.
“I wouldn’t let this year be the data by which we write the history of live events,” said Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer at CBS Corp. and president of CBS Vision. “The live experience is very, very special; Americans are always looking for live.”
Subramanyam’s remarks came in Tuesday’s keynote interview at TVNewsCheck’s TV2025: Monetizing the Future conference. Speaking with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Subramanyam said in spite of the OTT surge and all the challenges that come with live production today, CBS has recently enjoyed two of its best NFL Sunday ratings in about a half decade.
She added that viewers of CBS All Access still tend to tune into the live stream over the VOD options, with sports as well as news — so crucial to consumers right now — operating as “key anchors within [CBS’s] larger OTT strategy.”
Depp asked Subramanyam about the dizzying array of options consumers have in digital, and where the announced rebranding of CBS All Access to Paramount Plus fits into the fold.
“There’s a lot of potential for a sort of fog of war here, from a consumer standpoint,” Depp said. “What are they saying about how they’re navigating that world?”
“We know that consumers need to get a value proposition,” Subramanyam said, acknowledging the potential widespread confusion for consumers in the streaming market. “Is the value proposition ‘originals,’ or is it live content, or access to channels you love best? Is it free? Is [it] ad-free at a certain price point?… These are the really big questions.”
She said the fog will only be cleared if media companies put the onus on themselves to market as clearly as possible to consumers, who need to understand the options that they have and what will make them feel rewarded most. When it comes to marketing these options, Subramanyam essentially suggests the KISS approach.
“You need to be really simple in [communicating] what you are and what you stand for,” she said, reminding viewers that TV advertising is still “the best kind of advertising.”
Another concern in the OTT space is whether or not consumers may soon reach a spending threshold while paying for SVOD channels a la carte. What that ceiling might be is a moving target, but Subramanyam said there’s evidence to suggest that it is higher than what was once thought.
“People are paying for many services,” she said, adding that CBS is “very encouraged” by the sign-up rate for All Access, which boasted 16 million new subscribers through 2Q. “For somewhere between $5 to $10 a month, you can get thousands and thousands of hours of content…. What we offer in the SVOD world is really good value.”
Subramanyam also said the belief that consumers will hit a ceiling — of, say, five subscriptions — might not be the most attuned viewpoint of the market. She thinks fluidity within that figure is more probable, with some consumers subscribing to 10 platforms and others paying for two.
“It’s all going to be on a spectrum,” she said.
Subramanyam also said a common currency for streaming metrics probably won’t arrive anytime soon, and that the industry should do its best to be comfortable with the uncertainty and the presence of multiple metrics — at least for the time being.Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer at CBS Corp., says linear TV isn’t dead yet: “The live experience is very, very special; Americans are always looking for live.” Click To Tweet
“Some people would say it’s unfortunate the world is becoming more complex, I think it’s just the reality and we have to adjust to that reality,” Subramanyam said. “[We must] learn to take all these different threads and figure out what is going on with our individual business because there is no black box that is going to spit out the answer, and say, ‘You must do this.’ ”
Pandemic or no pandemic, streaming or linear, the problems facing all broadcasters will sort themselves out if the decision makers continue to follow one enduring principle: “Great content always delivers great results,” Subramanyam said. “We are really focused on just going back and doing what we do best: making the best shows we can and serving them as smartly as we can to the most appropriate audience. So I’m very bullish about the future.”
Read more TV2025 coverage here.