Dan Cohen, Chief Content Licensing Officer at Paramount: "We Are Going to be Fine as Long as We Deliver Great Content"
BY Yako Molhov
Leading TV executives from around the world took part in the Monte-Carlo Television Festival’s Business Content forum, a complement to the main event that offered visitors behind-the-scenes insight into the television industry. The Business Content strand was held at the Grimaldi Forum between 15th and 17th June, running concurrently with the Festival which took place June 14th-18th this year. The event featured a series of conferences and interview sessions with leading figures from the world of TV, with the panels including a variety of influential global network executives, international and independent producers, content creators, young innovators and media representatives.
The Business Content forum launched with an intimate chat with one of television and entertainment’s most successful and influential executives, Dan Cohen, Chief Content Licensing Officer at Paramount and President of Republic Pictures, hosted by Michael Idato, Culture Editor at Large at The Sydney Morning Herald. Cohen offered unique insight into his career spanning decades, leading up to where he is today, heading the company's global content licensing and distribution operations, with responsibility for monetizing a large and growing portfolio of original content that airs or streams on the diverse CBS Television network and Paramount platforms and from 3rd party partners.

When talking about the changes in the TV and movie business in the past decade, the Paramount senior executive noted that "the building blocks are the same and great content, great storytelling - whether it's scripted series, big movies, unscripted television - it's still about connecting with audiences and telling stories. The business models have changed dramatically but I think it does still come back to great storytelling and you see shows, whether they're for adults or kids, dramas or comedies, resonate if it's great storytelling with great performances... You need to find great stories, great storytellers, producers, writers, actors and facilitate getting the content made. It's absolutely night and day different in how you distribute and monetize the content from 10 years ago and I think the pressures on companies, especially the big media companies - I work for Paramount Global so we own Paramount Pictures, CBS, Showtime Network 10 in Australia, Channel 5 in the UK, MTV Network - so we are a multi-faceted company and it really comes back down to are we making great content. In fact our three CEOs George Cheeks, Brian Robinson, Chris McCarthy - they are at the company to help make sure we continue to make great content and we've had our ups and downs but when we make great content, whether it's a 'Top Gun' movie, a 'Mission Impossible' movie, a Taylor Sheridan series, 'NCIS', 'The Gray House' which we were fortunate enough to premiere last night, we know we're going to be fine as long as we deliver great content."

Paramount is one of the few studios that stayed in the traditional television distribution business at the same time as it launched its platforms and Idato asked whether Paramount was right with that strategy, with Cohen noting that "we do get our share of things wrong but we I do feel strongly that we were right about this... You can have a streaming service whether it's ours: Paramount+ and we also are JV partners in some territories with SkyShowtime, and be successful without putting a hundred percent of your content on that service... I grew up in content licensing and distribution and windowing has always been a great principle that content comes and goes from platforms and windows and business models and if it's good content, it just continues to work and you can remonetize it... I was at Disney before I joined Paramount and for many years, when we would go to license our best content, the clients basically wanted two things as long a deal as they could get and we did some deals as long as 10 years with a client for movies and full exclusivity - when we have it, it can't be anywhere else because that's what we're paying for. We don't do deals of that length anymore and in fact sometimes in the AVOD, in FAST channels space we'll do a deal for a movie for a couple of days, you can have this movie for these two days and you know it's coming so promote it and then we'll move it somewhere else and the other terms that have really entered the discussion that didn't exist when I started were co-exclusivity - we're going to keep it on Paramount+ but you can have it as well non-exclusive - you're going to license it but we can license it freely elsewhere and there are all sorts of subsets of that you can have it exclusively in your business model streaming, you can have it exclusively in your business model basic cable but it could sit somewhere else and what's been nice about it is we've been able to monetize the content. We have it available to our streaming service Paramount+ when it's needed and the third-party clients have discovered that it's a good value so when it's not exclusive they get to pay a little bit less but the utility is still there so I do feel we were right and it is interesting we have more competition now because some of the other major media companies have come back in and you will see them licensing content that for a couple of years they weren't. We are pleased that we stayed the course and it's been good for my business that we did".

The Paramount executive also talked about the company's licensing strategy for major markets like MIPCOM: "before Paramount I worked at Disney for 20 years and at MIPCOM - for those of you that maybe haven't been: Disney always had the biggest tent so they weren't in the Palais where a lot of the media companies were and I was there as part of the Disney team. Disney didn't renew their lease and we grabbed it immediately and part of it was we wanted to make a statement that we're not only still here, we're here in full force. This past MIPCOM our then CEO Bob Backish came to the market and CEOs do not (usually) attend MIPCOM. He came just to make the message clear that we're here to license and we also brought new products to MIPCOM so this past year we brought something that we call sort of the Paramount+ branded destination and we now have 50 plus territories where Paramount+ is available. The first one was Greece with our partner Cosmote where they are the home of Paramount+ but we didn't build market operation and finance Paramount+ streaming service there, we license the great content and the branding to a partner and we let them be the face of it - it's new, it's been great, it has worked for us but it's also very familiar because used to be you would do a Showtime output deal - you didn't just license 'Billions', you license Showtime and 'Billions' was part of it. We took that approach and went to the market and that's why Bob Backish came - to reinforce that this is important to our company and it definitely made it a little easier that we had less competition."

Cohen also noted that "part of why we're (here) at Monte-Carlo every year in such full force is CBS. CBS has been the number one network in the United States the last 15 years. It shows 'NCIS', 'FBI', 'Blue Bloods', 'Fire Country', new shows like 'Elsbeth', 'Matlock' - they are global juggernauts, that is the biggest line of business my division has - these are broadcast television shows and the preponderance of our licensing deals internationally are with broadcasters, there's no rule that we can't put 'NCIS' on a streaming service somewhere if we get the right offer but the overwhelming preponderance of the of the licensing are broadcasters and for us to not be at a MIPCOM or not to host the LA screenings, not be here with our new shows would be a huge mistake so I was a hundred percent convinced for our company our strategy was right which again doesn't mean other folks going in a different direction I wasn't necessarily sure they were wrong."

In terms of the size of the deals in the licensing world nowadays, the exec shared that "it's very hard to do the single sale deal; there are only a few global streamers and I think we all know who they are. They produce a lot of their own content, they don't need to acquire much on that basis like brand new, we want to own it in perpetuity everywhere. We've done that with some movies and we've also produced some series for streamers - 'Jack Ryan' which is arguably Amazon's biggest series was produced by Paramount Television. In the height of covid we licensed some of our movies when theaters were closed like 'Coming to America' and 'Without Remorse' to Amazon; we licensed 'Cloverfield' to Netflix so it does happen once in a while but really the day in and day out work that my team does are are territory by territory deals, we have 22 offices, we have a person on our team living in Rome dealing with RAI in Italy, a person in Madrid dealing with Movistar in Spain and we actually have over 5 000 active agreements at any given time because it's that kind of work - it might be one show, it might be a package of shows, it might be library movies but that is really the bulk of the business overwhelmingly. I tend to get asked more about the couple deals a year that we do with Netflix or Amazon that make the headlines but if you travel around and when you're in in different countries in different places and you look at broadcast television or basic cable in in territory, you'll see a lot of Paramount content, you'll see a lot of US content."

Last week it was announced that Skydance will acquire Paramount Global. During the Monte-Carlo TV Festival there were still uncertainties as whether the studio will be sold and who will be the buyer and Cohen commented that "I came from Disney in 2017 to Paramount Pictures. Almost from the day I arrived the Viacom-CBS merger discussion started and so I arrived at a place where every market client would say well there's going to be a merger, should we deal with you or should we wait and see what happens after the merger and we had to play through that for quite a long period of time. By the way we're not alone, MGM got bought by Amazon, there's lots of consolidation so I've encouraged my folks to try to just control what we can control and continue to get great content to the clients. Also, this goes way back, I had a two-year stint at a company called Tele-TV. It was an early attempt by the telcos in the US to get into video. Sir Howard Stringer was the CEO so we were very high profile but we were too early and we were owned by three different phone companies and two of them merged together and sued the third one so it it just was too early, it was the wrong partners and for months and months it was a big US press story - Tele-TV is a disaster it's going to close, it's going to go away. I was a buyer, not a seller, I was at a major studio and I had the person I was attempting to license movies from say to me "why are you here, how is it that you're here, you do know your company's going to go out of business" and I said "for me it's an easy question - they pay me every week, we're still open, I'm a professional and until they tell me otherwise my job is to try to get you to license me content; I know we're not going to be successful today, you've made it very clear you're not interested but I'm okay with that as long as I know that I did the best I could..." and I haven't told that story to my team because they haven't given me any reason to try to convince them to keep going."

Cohen is also the President of Republic Pictures and when asked what was the reason for a film studio like Paramount to create another film studio, the exec commented that "we are an absolute juggernaut on the television side, both the success scale of our series and the volume; Paramount Pictures makes fabulous movies but their volume is relatively low, lower than a lot of the major studios, we're releasing nine movies this year and I have the capacity to distribute more movies than that, especially in television and in home entertainment... A lot of the Republic movies are more in the indie film space and they're not Paramount Pictures so I can do business with other clients - one of the first ones we did was a movie with an actor named Jake Johnson that we took to South by Southwest and Hulu bought it... It's a classic iconic film studio that had gone dormant that we happen to own so if we didn't own it, we wouldn't have gone out to acquire it and I just thought it had some cachet to use that versus maybe make up a new name and where we are now is trying to really lean into smart interesting stories. We do acquire, we don't produce which is different than Paramount Pictures which can acquire but really produces its movies. One movie that we acquired is a comedy called 'Bad Apples' that we acquired from Henway Films and it's being produced by Pulse Pictures which is part of Vice. It's a black comedy shot outside of London starring Saoirse Ronan, she's a four-time Oscar nominee she's an amazing actor and it will work for a lot of my European clients and we were very excited to be associated with it. Another one that we just acquired is called 'Heart Eyes' and our partner is Spyglass who make the screen movies for us - it's a horror rom-com set at 'Valentine's Day."

Regarding the modern FAST channels and the traditional models like DVDs, Cohen noted that "my team's job is really to monetize our content and to meet the consumers where they are. There are a lot of consumers that still buy DVDs and I get frustrated when I hear that that business is over. When you have Kevin Costner in 'Yellowstone' or Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun' or 'Mission Impossible', we still sell a lot of DVDs, it's smaller than it used to be certainly but it's still a very meaningful business, it's a very meaningful part of what my group does and the FAST channels, AVOD space is my favorite - first of all it is the fastest growing segment of our content licensing business, even in what's been a bit of a rocky ad sales environment the last couple years - it's still growing rapidly and we are very engaged. We license to all the services and not only does Paramount Global own Pluto, my team has actually just launched a FAST channel called the Miramax Channel - we are the distributors of the Miramax film library, we own 49% of the company in a joint venture and it's a great way to get those films out in front of consumers and we're trying to really do a quality channel with interstitials and behind the scenes and really have fun with it and really program it not just as a static library channel... Sometimes people just want to lean back and watch watch a channel. Our most successful content to date in FAST is the 'CSI' franchise and you can go on to Pluto and watch the CSI channel or you can go to the AVOD site and pick which episode you want to see. By the way two of our other big series in FAST that I find fascinating are 'Gun Smoke', a 1960s Western series and 'The Andy Griffith Show', a 1960s sitcom so there's a huge nostalgia component but more and more it's consumers just wanting to come home relax just watch good content for a while. There are a lot of consumers that feel like they pay as much or more than they used to and they're frustrated because the hope of streaming was you'll get all the great content you could ever envision and it somehow will cost less and it just hasn't translated to that".

Talking about the 'jewels in the crown' of Paramount - 'Star Trek' and 'Yellowstone', Cohen noted that "they are incredibly vital, 'Star Trek' has not only a massive film component and we have another film coming that we've announced but Paramount+ has a number of 'Star Trek' series continues to roll out new ones and we've even done animation targeting kids, we've done animation targeting adults. Big IP is the secret sauce of media companies like Disney, like Paramount and 'Star Trek' is really important. 'Transformers' is a massive franchise as well - we have an animated 'Transformers' movie this summer, we have the next 'Mission Impossible' next year that is still something that the studios do better than anyone and it is a very big component of our success".
Dan Cohen serves as chief content licensing officer for Paramount, leading the company's global content licensing and distribution operations. He is responsible for monetizing a large and growing portfolio of original content that airs or streams on the CBS Television Network, The CW, Paramount+ with SHOWTIME, as well as programming from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Television Studios, CBS Studios, CBS News, CBS Media Ventures, the MTV Entertainment Studios, Nickelodeon, Miramax and third-party partners.

As president of Republic Pictures, he revitalized the label under Paramount Global in March 2023. Additionally, he runs worldwide home entertainment for the company, overseeing the distribution of the industry's largest library of film and television titles.

Cohen assumed leadership of the division following his role as president of global content licensing, formerly for ViacomCBS. Previously, Cohen served as president of Worldwide Home Entertainment & Television Distribution for Paramount Pictures. He joined Paramount in 2017 as president of Worldwide Television Licensing. Prior to joining Paramount, Cohen spent 20 years at Disney/ABC, where he served as executive vice president of pay television and digital sales for home entertainment and television distribution for the Walt Disney Studios. In this role, he distributed catalog and properties such as Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC and Disney Channel to businesses around the globe. Cohen was also responsible for securing two of the most significant pay television deals in history - Netflix in 2012 and Starz in 1999 - negotiating exclusive, multi-year deals and licensing agreements.
Share this article: