The coronavirus pandemic wiped out a large portion of ViacomCBS’s advertising business and its box-office take in the second quarter, the company reported Thursday. ViacomCBS owns CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, Showtime and the Paramount film studios. The company’s ad revenue in the United States fell 24 percent to $1.7 billion, and its theatrical business dropped a staggering 98 percent from the same time last year, to $3 million. Total sales fell 12 percent to $6.2 billion, and profit was halved to $478 million.
The company’s only bright spot, as at other media conglomerates, was its streaming business, which includes CBS All Access, Showtime and the free, ad-supported platform Pluto. CBS and Showtime now have 16.2 million subscribers. (The company refuses to break out figures for each platform.) Revenue jumped 25 percent to $489 million. The company also touted a new plan to add more content to CBS All Access that will include 3,500 episodes from BET, Comedy Central, MTV and others.
As the so-called streaming wars took off two years ago, ViacomCBS said it would play the arms dealer and license its content to top bidders. But recently, Robert M. Bakish, the chief executive, announced a new strategy to bolster its own streaming service. That raised a question: Would the company stop licensing its shows and films to other streamers in an effort to shore up its own offering? Mr. Bakish has said it’s not an either-or proposition and the company could still do both.
Quarterly results help put its streaming ambitions into perspective: ViacomCBS generates far more revenue from content licensing than streaming. That’s because the company produces a lot of the shows seen on streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. It recently licensed the well-known “South Park” franchise to HBO Max for about $500 million, making that single deal worth more than an entire quarter’s streaming revenue. Total content licensing sales for the period topped $1.9 billion.
Elsewhere, CBS saw sales drop more than a fifth to $2.3 billion and profit drop more than a third to $392 million largely because of weaker advertising.
On the earnings call following the report, Mr. Bakish said he expected the decline in advertising to start to moderate in the current quarter, a sign that marketers were looking to open up their wallets a bit more.
The company also announced that Stephen Colbert and James Corden, its late night hosts, would be returning to the studio next week — but without a studio audience.