Paramount+ and the struggle to brand streaming services —

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When in doubt, just add a plus sign.

CBS All Access, ViacomCBS’s six-year-old streaming service, will be rebranded as Paramount+ in early 2021, the US media conglomerate announced yesterday. The service borrows its new name from Paramount Pictures, the venerable Hollywood studio ViacomCBS has owned since 1994. It joins Disney+, Apple TV+, ESPN+ and several others as the latest service to tack a “+” onto the end of its name in an effort to highlight the additional content available to subscribers beyond what’s already implied in the brand name.

One challenge for ViacomCBS is the majority of consumers may not immediately know what is part of the Paramount content universe, like they might for a more famous brand like Disney. But given the company’s goal to expand the streaming service globally, it needed to pick a name more recognizable than CBS to consumers outside the US.

“Paramount is an iconic and storied brand beloved by consumers all over the world,” Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, said in a statement. The service offers TV shows and movies from ViacomCBS’s vast library, which includes content from Paramount Pictures and networks like CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon.

But the “+” is just one device streaming services use to tell consumers there’s more content than meets the eye. There’s also HBO Max, which WarnerMedia uses to inform subscribers that the service has lots of content beyond the confines of mere HBO, and IFC Films Unlimited, a service comprised of independent films. (Though the selection is big, it is not, in fact, unlimited.)

Other popular constructions include “Now,” to stress the point the content is available on-demand (Sundance Now, Epix Now, the now-defunct HBO Now), and “TV,” in case we forget that we’re watching TV (IMDb TV, Fubo TV). If companies aren’t sure whether to use “Now” or “TV,” they can always go with both—as British TV provider Sky did for its service, Now TV.

Sometimes companies will make up their own word: Quibi, Vudu, Tubi, Mubi (those are all real). Others will take an existing word and re-appropriate it for its own purposes: NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Crackle (formerly owned by Sony Pictures), or the horror-centric service Shudder.

For ViacomCBS, the Paramount rebrand underscores a challenge all major entertainment companies now face when trying to launch or scale a streaming service: How to stuff content from so many disparate brands into a single platform and explain to consumers what they can watch if they sign up.

Media conglomerates want all their content under one roof in order to compete with Netflix and Disney. WarnerMedia put everything it owns—including shows from TNT and TBS and movies from Warner Bros.—on HBO Max, deciding HBO was the best brand to market the product. NBCUniversal is doing the same with Peacock, except rather than single out one of its many brands, it settled on a name closely connected with one: NBC’s famous Peacock logo.

One service that doesn’t have this branding issue is Netflix—the first platform to market and already an integral part of 190 million consumers’ lives. Some shows are so associated with being watched on Netflix that viewers believe Netflix produced them, even when it didn’t. Every competing service’s branding is in part a reaction to that, as they flail to generate streaming labels that can tell viewers why it’s worth their money.

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