CBS Sports and Paramount+ logos. CBS Sports and Paramount+ logos.

There’s a remarkable discrepancy between the state of CBS Sports and the state of parent company Paramount Global. The sports division seems to be ticking along fine despite major changes, but the parent company just fired CEO Bob Bakish amidst messy ongoing merger talks with Skydance. And uncertainty remains around both those talks and a potential other offer from Apollo and perhaps Sony.

With that in mind, a key question on the larger company’s future is about Paramount+, its subscription streaming service. CBS Sports content is critical to that service, and could be key to it lasting for the long run. But will that be enough in a world of heavy streaming competition with much bigger companies, one that only looks to get more vicious?

As mentioned, the overall state of CBS Sports seems decently solid. They just wrapped up a successful run of Super Bowl-Final Four-Masters, oversaw an orderly transition from retiring long-time chair Sean McManus to new chair David Berson (also a long-time CBS Sports executive), launched another prominent free advertising-supported streaming TV (FAST) channel for the UEFA Champions League (building on what they’re doing in that space), and even seemed to handle a major shift at their The NFL Today studio show (Matt Ryan in, Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms out) relatively smoothly.

Meanwhile, on the rights side, CBS Sports has a notable NFL rights package through 2032-33. They also have men’s NCAA Tournament rights (in partnership with TNT Sports) through 2032, some Big Ten rights through 2029-30, some PGA Tour rights through 2030, Masters rights (that’s year to year, but shows no indication of changing), UEFA Champions League rights through 2030, some WNBA and NWSL rights, and more. So they’ll definitely have some top sports content for a while.

But the uncertainty around Paramount Global is notable. And that intensified Monday with the departure of Bakish and the switch to a three-headed “office of the CEO” around ongoing merger talks with Skydance (backed by funding from RedBird Capital, as well as from Skydance CEO David Ellison and his father, Oracle executive chair Larry Ellison), which are set to lose their exclusive window on May 3. There was some good news for the company with John Ourand’s Puck report this week that they’re set to reach a short-term extension and then likely a full carriage deal with Charter for their linear networks (with that also including access to Paramount+’s basic ad-supported tier for Charter subscribers, similar to the deal Disney struck with Charter last fall), but the ownership question remains unsettled.

As Puck’s William Cohan wrote this week, there are notable divides between the reported Skydance proposal and the reported waiting one from Apollo and Sony. The latter is perhaps better for shareholders other than National Amusements president and Paramount Global non-executive chair Shari Redstone (who holds 9.7 percent of the equity, but 79.9 percent of the voting power). But the former looks perhaps easier to consummate, and it was topped up with extra money for non-Redstone shareholders Sunday.

It’s not yet clear if either of those suitors will actually wind up in charge of Paramount Global. It’s possible the Skydance proposal will include a “go shop” offer, and that could pave the way for not just Apollo. While discussion on it has cooled recently, there was a lot of talk about the idea of a Paramount/Warner Bros. Discovery combination last December, and that’s at the least interesting to contemplate. And there could be major implications for CBS Sports, and for Paramount+, with any of those three suitors.

If Skydance prevails, there wouldn’t necessarily be a sea change ahead for CBS and CBS Sports. The more immediate note there would likely come on the film side, where Skydance and Paramount have already worked together on movies such as Top Gun: Maverick. But Skydance does have fingers in some other sports pies, including some docuseries partnerships with the NFL and NFL Films.

An acquisition of Paramount Global would give Skydance obvious in-house distribution platforms for content, from CBS to CBS Sports Network to the FAST channels to Paramount+. And there’s another dimension to consider. Much of the “buy NFL Media/NFL Films” talk remains around ESPN, and Ourand reported that that’s not dead and that the NFL is even seemingly largely over the “We weren’t given enough of a Spulu heads-up!” discussion these days. But a combined Skydance/Paramount Global might be a very intriguing NFL Media suitor indeed considering how both CBS and Skydance have worked with the NFL, and considering that Skydance is bringing some more money into Paramount Global.

If Apollo and Sony prevail, the first obvious impact is again with the combination of the Paramount and Sony movie studios. There also could be expanded distribution on CBS and Paramount Media Networks (Comedy Central, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, more) channels for Sony Pictures TV projects, and perhaps also on Paramount-owned ad-supported streaming platform Pluto TV. (And hey, there’s a noted sports figure who’s a pretty big deal at Sony TV.) But there are some challenges involving CBS.

One is that Sony is based in Japan, and regulators are often quite concerned about foreign media ownership (as in the latest TikTok kerfuffle). Those obstacles intensify whenever a broadcast network is what’s on the table. (This is also worth keeping in mind with the RedBird backing for the Skydance offer, as RedBird spinoff RedBird IMI is in partnership with a UAE wealth fund, and is led by former CNN/Turner executive Jeff Zucker, who along with former NBCUniversal exec Jeff Shell is expected to play a significant role in running Paramount Global if it is acquired. But the Sony connections are currently being discussed as more of a challenge.)

Another notable hurdle on the broadcast side comes from Apollo’s 2019 acquisition of Cox, which regulators pointed to last year while scuttling their planned acquisition of Tegna. Cohan notes that a combination of Apollo and CBS owned-and-operated affiliates would have 58 CBS local affiliates, many in large markets, which would put them far above the current FCC regulations capping any one company’s station group at reaching 39 percent of the U.S. population. That could be solved by selling off some of the local affiliates, but still would post potential obstacles.

An Apollo/Sony deal could have some advantages of its own for CBS Sports. Apollo reportedly would be injecting a lot of cash into Paramount Global and assuming its debt, which might make CBS a bigger player in future rights deals. There aren’t too many big things coming up quickly (other than the NBA, which CBS hasn’t really been linked to, and those deals would close long before any merger or acquisition here), but the funding here might put them in a much better place to retain what they have and/or add to it when deals like the NFL, NCAA Tournament, and Big Ten ones they have come up for renewal. And Apollo also owns Yahoo, and there could be advantages for CBS Sports’ digital operations from partnering those companies.

Meanwhile, if WBD did come back into play, that might be the most significant immediate change for CBS Sports. That would give them a huge amount of sports content. And it could have big implications on the streaming side as well, perhaps leading to combinations of Paramount+ with Max with the B/R Sports add-on, or even to Paramount+ somehow being incorporated into the Spulu (ESPN/Fox/WBD) joint venture. This hasn’t been discussed a lot lately, but the past interest from WBD certainly means they can’t be ruled out, especially if these other deals don’t come through.

On the streaming front, though, that brings up one of the largest uncertainties around Paramount Global going forward. Paramount+ is on track to become profitable in the U.S. by next year as per the company, but there are significant challenges for Paramount in competing with the much larger companies in the streaming space. And thanks to an old licensing deal, the biggest show they’re associated with on the TV side (Yellowstone) wound up at NBCUniversal’s Peacock rather than their own service.

But Paramount+ does have some notable advantages against its competitors. One is that they have quite a good lineup of movies from their own studio (including the aforementioned Top Gun: Maverick, the original Top Gun, the full Mission Impossible collection, and more). Another is that they have some of the most prominent animated/kids/teenager programming through Nickelodeon (which has seen its own sports integrations, including at this year’s Super Bowl). And a third is that they have quite a bit of sports content, from exclusive Champions League matches through full feeds of local CBS affiliates and all the sports contained there.

That latter point is a key one, and it’s something where CBS stands out from many broadcast competitors. And CBS started that with the NFL way back in 2016 (after years of discussion). Comcast’s Peacock now also offers full local NBC affiliate feeds in its premium package, but only made that move in late 2022. Meanwhile, Fox and ABC currently have no over-the-top way to watch local affiliates; some or all of that may wind up in Spulu, but that’s unclear at this point. (Yes, for broadcast affiliates, there are always digital antennas, but not everyone wants to go that way, and streaming access to local broadcast affiliates matters for many.)

It’s worth mentioning that CBS Sports and its rights have been one of the best public defenses against the (perhaps long shot) antitrust concerns and litigation over Spulu so far. And they and NBC do appear to be in a different camp than ESPN, Fox, and WBD at this point.

For Peacock, its ability to survive and thrive long-term looks solid right now (even with a price increase), largely driven by sports and by big swings there such as exclusive NFL games (despite the complaints those have drawn), and also by the deep pockets of parent Comcast. For Paramount+, that’s a little more questionable, especially considering the ownership uncertainty. But if Paramount+ is able to keep its momentum and hit profitability, a large part of that is going to be about the CBS Sports access it provides. And a takeover may actually wind up being a boost there, especially if the new parent can provide some more content there, and maybe even funding for more exclusive broadcasts.

At this point, it’s far from clear what will happen for CBS and Paramount Global. And Paramount+ is a big part of that uncertainty. It’s certainly possible that it won’t be able to compete for the long run against those bigger companies, and that it will wind up as another shuttered streaming service. But there is also a chance it could stick around, and maybe even see a boost from one of these potential takeovers. And if Paramount+ does stay in it for the long haul, CBS Sports is going to be a crucial reason why.

If Paramount+ does not make it as an independent service, though, that doesn’t mean CBS Sports or the ability to stream its broadcasts is going away. There’s definitely the possibility of linking CBS Sports in with something else, maybe even Spulu or Peacock. A lot of that will depend on what happens with Paramount Global at the corporate level. But CBS Sports remains one of the company’s strongest assets at this point. And it will likely play an important role in what does wind up becoming of the company.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.