By Dave Sebastian and Benjamin Mullin
ViacomCBS Inc. reported a loss in the final quarter of last year as Viacom completed its merger with sister company CBS and prepared to compete with the likes of Netflix Inc. in the increasingly crowded arena of online streaming video.
In its first earnings report since the merger closed, ViacomCBS posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $258 million, or 42 cents a share, compared with a profit of $887 million, or $1.44 a share, in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings were 97 cents a share.
Analysts polled by FactSet had expected earnings of $1.32 a share, or $1.41 a share on an adjusted basis.
Revenue fell 3% to $6.87 billion from the prior year as content-licensing revenue fell 11% to $1.28 billion. Analysts were looking for revenue of $7.34 billion.
Shares of the company slumped 18% on Thursday.
The company also said it is targeting $750 million in cost cuts for the year, revising its guidance upward from $500 million.
The company's advertising revenue fell 2% to $3.03 billion, and its publishing and theatrical revenues also declined. Its affiliate revenue rose 1% to $2.13 billion, fueled by growth in reverse compensation, retransmission and subscription-streaming revenue that offset declines in pay TV.
ViacomCBS said it had $1.6 billion in U.S. streaming video revenue last year and finished the year with 11 million U.S. streaming subscribers, marking the first time that the company has broken out its online video results in detail.
ViacomCBS plans to court additional subscribers with an expanded version of CBS All Access, which will include content from across the company's cable networks, including Nickelodeon, MTV and VH1. The company's video-streaming services include CBS All Access, Showtime and BET+.
On an earnings conference call, ViacomCBS Chief Executive Bob Bakish said the company will offer three main streaming services to maximize revenue from online video. Pluto TV, the company's ad-supported service, will be the cheapest option for consumers. The most expensive option will be anchored by Showtime, ViacomCBS's premium cable and streaming service. In the middle will be the expanded version of CBS All Access, which will include more than 30,000 episodes of TV and about 1,000 movies.
"We believe this strategy of free, broad pay and premium pay is where the market will go," Mr. Bakish said.
Mr. Bakish predicted during the call that the company would have 16 million paid U.S. video-streaming subscribers and Pluto TV would have about 30 million monthly active users by the end of the year.
Also on the call, Mr. Bakish said that the company plans to use its combined financial resources to strike a rights deal with the National Football League, an agreement that would secure one of the last remaining staples of linear TV viewership for years to come.
The company's CBS Sports and sports-betting operator William Hill US this month agreed to a multiyear deal that would enable the gambling company to seek new customers among the media giant's audience.
ViacomCBS has named George Cheeks, a top executive at Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal, to succeed Joe Ianniello as head of CBS-branded assets. Mr. Cheeks will assume his role March 23. Mr. Ianniello, who was interim CEO of CBS before it merged with Viacom in December, will be departing the company.
The company late last year said it was acquiring a 49% stake in movie and television production company Miramax Pictures from BeIN Media Group for $375 million as ViacomCBS looks to broaden its programming holdings and put more content online. Miramax was founded in 1979 by brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein, who later left to form the Weinstein Co., faces a series of sexual-assault allegations and has been charged with rape, criminal sexual act and two counts of predatory sexual assault.
Write to Dave Sebastian at firstname.lastname@example.org and Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com