Paramount, NBCU, Hallmark sound off on content distribution

DENVER – The streaming space is rife with competition and consequently, content distribution partnerships. At the StreamTV Show, executives from Paramount, NBCUniversal and others shared some insight on how they’re approaching such deals.

Amy Kuessner, EVP of content strategy and global partnerships at Paramount Streaming, admitted the distribution landscape has gotten complicated, especially as CTV manufacturers “aggressively pursue their own FAST [free ad-supported streaming TV] platforms.”

Still, she thinks Paramount sits “in a priority position” for content distribution, due to the company’s size and scope.

“We have first party content that only Paramount has, whether you want a Nickelodeon channel, ‘48 Hours’ or ‘Star Trek,’ and all of those CTV manufacturers want our content and they usually can only get it through Paramount,” Kuessner explained.

With third parties, Paramount has been able to negotiate “exclusive windows, exclusive content and channels.”

“So again, that puts us in a priority position to negotiate with the CTV manufacturers who undoubtedly are the first touchpoint with a consumer, so they have a huge marketplace advantage,” she said.

Matt Farina, NBCU’s SVP of content distribution and digital product partnerships, noted consumers still want access to “professional, premium content,” but what’s changed is the distribution model.

“The name of the game for us is scale, audience, reach and we’ve got something for all of these platforms engaging with our content,” he said.

Farina pointed out NBCU has a “healthy pay TV business,” where the company still sees plenty of engagement from consumers. But NBCU also has a direct-to-consumer streaming product – Peacock – for viewers who want to watch content “on their own terms.”

“We have a FAST portfolio that’s growing like everybody else…for us I think scale is really important,” he said. “And we have all these models that can coexist because the audiences are different.”

Lauri McGarrigan, VP of streaming distribution and business development at Hallmark Media, said her company’s distribution approach is geared towards “mutual alignment.”

“It’s tough to monetize on your own and really trying to figure out where you can work together, because for Hallmark especially we have limited resources,” she said.

“So, those partners that really want to lean in to help us monetize and work together, we both want to be successful in this space,” McGarrigan added. “There’s places where you’re not going to make it work, but there are two places where you can find two alignments and really leaning into those to help drive value in the marketplace.”

Jonathan Plowman is the CEO of Questar Entertainment, a distribution company that provides on-demand content as well as FAST channels to major streaming platforms. From his perspective, “everybody is a potential partner.”

Questar’s main customers are TV manufacturers and streaming platforms, but the company wouldn’t rule out other distributors as potential partners.

“Even when a company may appear to be a direct competitor of ours, we’re always doing something different – nobody does exactly what we do, we don’t do exactly what anybody else does,” Plowman said. “Even if we are competitors, a lot of times there’s ways to work together and there’s certainly ways to help each other.”

Exclusivity a mainstay

Not only is content distribution becoming more complicated, but it’s also veering towards exclusivity, panelists noted.

“I think [FAST] is definitely moving more towards exclusivity,” Plowman went on to say. In the early days of both AVOD and FAST, “there really was no exclusivity.”

“As the marketplace gets more and more competitive, the platforms obviously need to differentiate themselves,” he said.

“I don’t think it benefits the industry to take 20,30, 40 FAST channels that are all the same across every platform,” Kuessner added. “Every platform is unique in terms of how they program to their userbase. We’ve had the most experience and the most trial and error and we know what attracts our users.”

But content providers are experimenting with different types of exclusivity. In Paramount’s case, it’s promoting its programming across both its paid and free platforms.

Kuessner said this coming August, Paramount will showcase western genre content by offering the first four seasons of “Yellowstone” for free on Pluto TV. It’s employing a similar approach with other shows, as newer seasons debut on Paramount+ but prior seasons will be available on Pluto.

As for Hallmark, McGarrigan said it’s testing a distribution model for the TV show “When Calls the Heart,” which is currently in its tenth season. Hallmark is showcasing the first two seasons of the series on FAST, and then uses a QR code to direct consumers to the Hallmark Movies Now SVOD service, where viewers can watch the rest of the show.

“I think we’re at the beginning stages of figuring this out, but we’re also seeing our partners embrace this, so we kind of know there’s something there,” she added.