In 2014, CBS launched its own streaming service, "CBS All Access." While it changed a bit over the years, the 2019 Viacom/CBS merger (and likely a desire to promote the service in non-US countries, where CBS doesn't exist) led ViacomCBS to relaunch CBS All Access in March 2021 as "Paramount+." The retooled streaming service got an entertaining Super Bowl-launched ad campaign billing it as having "a mountain of entertainment" (per the classic Paramount mountain logo).
But is Paramount+ really worth it, especially compared to every other streaming service (including the dominant giants Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video)? I tried Paramount+ under a free trial.
Pros of Paramount+
Paramount+ as of this writing costs $6/month (or $60/year) for an ad-supported tier, or $10/month (or $100/year) for a premium ad-free tier. Starting in June, the ad-supported tier will drop to $5/month, but will also drop support for live streaming of CBS.
Live streaming of CBS, CBS Sports, and CBSN
Paramount+ offers live streaming of your local CBS affiliate, as well as the CBS Sports cable channel and the free CBSN streaming news service. For those without cable or over-the-air access (or Locast access) to CBS, this feature might be useful if one wants live events, such as NFL football or other sports. I assume this feature's US-only.
Most ViacomCBS stuff is now in one place (and finally available for streaming)
For years, Viacom seemed to view streaming services as an afterthought and/or as a threat to its cable TV channels. As such, some of its material was either withheld from streaming services, only on very obscure services (such as the former "Nick Hits"), or only partially available. This included major franchises like "SpongeBob SquarePants."
With the launch of CBS All Access, Pluto TV, and the Viacom-CBS merger, this attitude seems to have changed. One major improvement of Paramount+ is that it's now a one-stop source for most of their TV library. The content is divided into several major categories, or "brands" to use the marketing-esque term Paramount+ uses: CBS; Nickelodeon; MTV; Comedy Central; BET; and the Smithsonian Channel. To summarize each below:
- CBS: Much of the current and modern CBS library is here, from classics like "I Love Lucy" and "Star Trek" to "NCIS" and "Young Sheldon." (However, the latter's predecessor show, "The Big Bang Theory," is on HBO Max.) CBS News programming's also available, including "CBS Sunday Morning" and "60 Minutes."
- Nickelodeon: "SpongeBob SquarePants" is finally available on streaming in its entirety, along with fellow current Nick hits "Paw Patrol" and "The Loud House." Most of the major classic Nick fare is also available: "Rocko's Modern Life"; "The Angry Beavers"; "Rugrats"; and even (to my surprise) "You Can't Do That on Television," the channel's first major hit in the 80s.
- MTV: MTV's current and classic slate of reality shows are available, including "The Real World." VH1 fare like "RuPaul's Drag Race" is also under this category (more on that below). Other MTV classics like "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "Daria" are also available.
- Comedy Central: Most of the current and classic Comedy Central fare is offered here, including "The Daily Show," "Reno 911," and "Crank Yankers" (which is oddly a heavy part of the Paramount+ ad campaign, for a show I hadn't remotely thought about in years). Not offered: "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (which is on other services, including Netflix and also-ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV) or "South Park" (which is licensed to HBO Max).
- BET: A mix of current and older BET (or African-American starring) comedies and dramas are available, including shows like "The Game," "Sister, Sister," "Moesha," and "Half and Half." This year's airing of the NAACP Image Awards is also under here.
- The Smithsonian Channel: A long list of documentaries on various topics, from nature to the Kennedy administration to the development of the 747 jumbo jet.
- Movies: Some of the Paramount movie library's here, including "The Godfather," "Indiana Jones," and "Mission: Impossible." Paramount+ will also carry new Paramount movies 45 days after theatrical release.
Cons of Paramount+
No watchlist feature
The biggest flaw off the bat is there's no watchlist feature available, leaving no ability to bookmark favorite shows. If you want to watch something not prominently advertised on a main screen (say, "CBS Sunday Morning" or "The Angry Beavers"), you'll have to either dig through the categories or use the search feature. While Paramount+ does keep track of recently watched shows (displayed on the main page under the "Keep Watching" category), that's not an adequate substitute.
Given how basic and fundamental a feature this is for a streaming service, I consider this a major flaw to Paramount+, and one that should be fixed ASAP. Even their sister service Pluto TV has a rudimentary "favorites" feature!
While the main categories cover ViacomCBS' content, I wonder if a few extra categories or subcategories would help. For example, Nick Jr. content like "Dora the Explorer" and "Paw Patrol" is alongside Nick-proper content like "SpongeBob" and their live-action sitcoms.
VH1 shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race" (and its spin-offs) are also lumped under the MTV category. This is despite VH1 usually being its own brand traditionally marketed separately from MTV. (Originally VH1 was aimed at older viewers who outgrew MTV, but since both channels now largely only air reality shows, there's not as much of a distinction these days.)
Some missing content
Like other streaming services (and given existing streaming deals), not quite everything ViacomCBS-owned is available on Paramount+.
For one, while "The Loud House" is available, its spin-off "The Casagrandes" (now on its second season) isn't available.
Along with the previously mentioned "South Park" and "Big Bang Theory," another major omission seems to be shows on Logo, a LGBTQ-oriented cable channel owned by ViacomCBS.
While Logo's a shadow of its former self these days, it did air its own originals, such as "Noah's Arc" (a dramedy about a group of gay Black friends in Los Angeles). Unfortunately, "Noah's Arc" isn't on Paramount+, despite being available to stream on Logo's website. Even stranger, some of Logo's other shows, like the short-lived "The A-List," are carried by Pluto TV, but not by Paramount+.
Relatively few originals or must-see franchises
ViacomCBS is certainly a major media conglomerate, but not the same size as Disney or WarnerMedia. As such, ViacomCBS doesn't own as many major franchises as their competitors: no major superheroes like Superman or Spider-Man; few major movie franchises (outside of "Mission: Impossible" and "Indiana Jones"); "Star Trek," while still popular, has waned since its revival heyday in the 90s (and especially versus longtime rival franchise "Star Wars"); and while SpongeBob's likely the most popular cartoon created in the past two decades, he's still not fully on par with Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.
As such, Paramount+, like CBS All Access before it, is heavily promoted as the home of "Star Trek." Which wouldn't be new for Viacom/CBS—in the 90s, UPN was created with "Star Trek: Voyager" as the network's most heavily promoted show. Nickelodeon in general is likely also the other most promoted franchise on Paramount+, with SpongeBob (and the movie "Sponge on the Run"/the prequel spin-off "Kamp Koral") particularly advertised.
This also extends to a slow rollout of originals, though those are likely impacted by the pandemic. Outside of the "Star Trek" and "SpongeBob"/Nick franchises (the latter including an upcoming CGI reboot of "Rugrats"), there's not much else on Paramount+ that's a "must-see." "The Good Fight," a spin-off of CBS' "The Good Wife," is probably the service's most popular non-Trek/Nick show. Other reboots of classic ViacomCBS-owned shows are also coming, including reboots of "Beavis and Butt-Head," "The Fairly OddParents" (as a live-action show), and revivals of "Criminal Minds" and "Fraiser."
In summary, Paramount+ feels like it should be compared not to HBO Max or Disney+, but to Comcast/NBC Universal's Peacock streaming service. Peacock, like Paramount+, also feels second-tier, and isn't exactly threatening HBO Max or Disney+ in popularity anytime soon.
Paramount+ is competing with... itself?
Finally, Paramount+ also comes off feeling slightly redundant, or competing with its corporate siblings.
Some of this might be from Viacom opting to license its shows to other streaming services. "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is licensed to Netflix, while other Viacom-owned shows like "Rugrats," classic "Star Trek" and its older spin-offs, and "RuPaul's Drag Race" are on Hulu. (In "Star Trek"'s case, it's also on Netflix.)
Along with other ViacomCBS-owned streaming services (BET+, Showtime, CBSN, Noggin), there's also the existence of their most popular one: Pluto TV. Pluto's a live streaming service that offers "channels" much like a basic cable lineup; said "channels" are largely of ViacomCBS-owned material, such as "Nickelodeon on Pluto," "Logo on Pluto," or channels that air nothing but a single show ("Mystery Science Theater 3000," "The Addams Family," etc.). While Pluto has a small on-demand selection of movies and TV shows, it's largely live streaming based. But that doesn't seem to have affected its popularity: Pluto TV currently has 43 million users, versus Paramount+ and Showtime subscribers totaling 19.2 million users (individual service numbers unavailable).
Overall, some of the major parts of the ViacomCBS library can be found on more popular services like Netflix and Hulu; that and the free CBSN and Pluto TV services might make Paramount+ less of a must-have.
While there's no watchlist feature, there are user profiles available (up to six), each with their own custom avatars. Choices include several generic cartoony images and characters from: "Crank Yankers," "SpongeBob," "Rugrats," "Star Trek: Lower Decks," "Peppa Pig," "Blue's Clues," "Dora the Explorer," "Avatar," "Korra," and Nick Jr.'s "Blaze and the Monster Machines." While I like cartoons, it doesn't leave very many choices for someone who isn't a fan of any of these shows, or prefers live action material. No characters from "Hawaii Five-0," "NCIS," the live-action "Star Trek" shows, etc.? Or even the CBS or Paramount logos? If wondering, I just went with SpongeBob himself.
One plus is there's the option for a kids' mode on accounts, including basic ratings limits for shows (divided by "younger kids," limited to TV-G only, or "older kids," which is everything up to TV-PG).
On the technical side, 4K/HDR programming is available for only a handful of shows, mostly the Smithsonian Channel content and Paramount+ originals. The mobile app can download up to 25 titles to a device.
Who should use Paramount+?
Overall, Paramount+ is best for the following users:
- "Star Trek" fans who want to see the modern spin-offs like "Picard" and "Lower Decks."
- Nickelodeon fans who want to watch new or classic shows.
- Fans of "The Good Fight" (or CBS shows in general).
- Those who want live streaming of CBS for live events such as sports, and can't get CBS over-the-air or through other means (cable, Locast, etc.).
- Those that want a cheap secondary service with a decent amount of content.
Otherwise, I don't think Paramount+ is a must-have service if you don't fit the above groups. Some of the material is available on other services viewers likely already use (like Netflix or Hulu); Paramount+ has few originals that're absolute must-sees on par with "The Mandalorian" (Disney+) or "Bridgerton" (Netflix); its own sister service Pluto TV is available for free; and the lack of a watchlist is a serious knock against Paramount+'s usability.
On the plus side (pun unintended), Paramount+ is inexpensive. Thus, it might be fine as a secondary streaming service, even if it won't replace a major one like Netflix or Hulu.
Screenshot from Paramount+ main page. (ViacomCBS / screenshot by author)