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Could a CBS-Viacom Merger Create a New Streaming Giant?

CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS) and Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA) (NASDAQ: VIAB) have a shared history. The original CBS Corporation was Viacom's parent company, and after being spun off, Viacom eventually returned to merge with CBS in 1999. But a 2006 split severed the two again (though private company National Amusements retained a controlling share of each), and CBS and Viacom have spent the past 10 years more or less doing their own thing.

The band could be getting back together again, though. CBS and Viacom executives are reportedly talking about a merger. If that happens, CBS and Viacom's combined arsenal of TV channels, production studios, and intellectual property would be among the most impressive in media. And given how quickly Disney's (NYSE: DIS) acquisition of 21st Century Fox led to new streaming plans, it's fair to ask: How much would this deal change the streaming landscape?

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Where CBS and Viacom stand in streaming

There's a simple formula for making more in streaming right now: Own everything. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) recognized this early on, and its original-content hits have helped it secure a stock of popular streaming programming that it doesn't have to pay outside companies for. Disney has done much the same thing in reverse: With a ton of content in-house, Disney built out the streaming service part instead. CBS and Viacom have both made some efforts in streaming, but neither is nearly as far along as Disney or Netflix.

CBS has a direct-to-consumer offering based around its flagship channel. CBS All Access is a $5.99-per-month service that offers on-demand CBS shows as well as (in select markets only) a live feed of users' local CBS station.

As for Viacom, it recently acquired streaming platform Pluto TV, but does not yet have nearly the kind of streaming presence that other media companies have or are cultivating. There's no Viacom version of CBS All Access, though the Pluto TV acquisition did at least signal that Viacom is ready to do something about its relatively weak place in the streaming world. Of course, if it reunites with CBS, Viacom might not have to create its own streaming service at all.

Bigger, better, and readier for streaming

CBS is already the fourth-biggest media company on the planet. The only ones bigger -- Disney, Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) NBCUniversal, and AT&T's (NYSE: T) WarnerMedia -- already have streaming services or are planning to release them in the next couple of years. So it would only make sense for CBS and Viacom to quickly begin looking at streaming options should the merger come to fruition.

Over at CBS, Viacom has come up in a streaming context before. A deal with Viacom was considered one option for bolstering the content on CBS All Access, but Les Moonves (then still the powerful CEO of CBS Corporation) was reportedly against any such transaction -- he didn't like Viacom's properties and considered Viacom's CEO, Bob Bakish, a rival. (The Moonves-Bakish rivalry was one of the reasons why Viacom and CBS split the last time.)

But Moonves is gone -- he was shown the door last year following accusations of sexual misconduct -- and now CBS and Viacom may become one once again. If that happens, adding Viacom properties to CBS All Access would be the obvious move.

The other option would be to create a new service, perhaps at a new price point, or spinning off CBS All Access' live and on-demand portions and then bolstering each with Viacom's contributions. CBS All Access has a somewhat niche appeal right now, but the arrival of Viacom properties like Nickelodeon and MTV could change that fast. A unified CBS-Viacom would have plenty of content for an on-demand service, and it would also have a great reason to offer a live TV streaming package. If consumers could pay a reasonable price for a live TV package including CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, and other big CBS and Viacom channels, that would certainly put pressure on the already shaky skinny-bundle market. Unlike companies like Dish (NASDAQ: DISH), which owns skinny bundle Sling TV, CBS-Viacom would be going direct to consumers with its own channels instead of acting as a hub for channels from different companies.

Watch out, streaming companies

A unified CBS-Viacom wouldn't necessarily make Disney sweat too much, but it would be very unnerving for companies like Netflix and Dish's Sling TV. If a unified CBS-Viacom made a real effort in streaming, that would make four out of the top four media companies in the world going for streaming dollars. That leaves precious few studios still eager to license content to Netflix, and could open the door to a more fractured live TV streaming market that leaves no place for middleman companies hoping to preserve the "bundle" model.

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Stephen Lovely owns shares of AT&T and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool is short shares of CBS. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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