Monday, March 8, 2021

Paramount Plus

Two-minute review

Another day, another streaming platform. This time ViacomCBS has rebranded its existing CBS All Access service as Paramount Plus. Available in the US and Canada as of March 4 2021, the streaming platform folds in all pre-existing content from CBS All Access along with a raft of on-demand movies and shows from Viacom’s various holdings, BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Paramount Pictures and Smithsonian Channel, packaged together with local broadcast news and live sports. 

Paramount Plus plans to have up to 30,000 episodes and 2,500 movies available by this summer with 36 originals set to debut later in the year and more beyond. The promise of those future exclusives, including the Frasier reboot starring Kelsey Grammer, the Halo TV series, and a new Beavis and Butthead movie, might be the biggest draw for potential subscribers. 

We’ve known Paramount Plus was on the way for some time, so it feels like a missed opportunity that none of these bigger-draw titles are available from the offset, especially when you consider the fact that Disney Plus busted out of the barn with a show-stopper like The Mandalorian. Paramount Plus’s closest contender? A new SpongeBob Squarepants series, the prequel Kamp Koral. 

While you wait for that fresher original content to surface, new subscribers do have immediate access to a payload of excellent original shows. Migrated from the CBS All Access platform, you’ve got the likes of Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, the new adaptation of The Stand, alongside its network shows like Clarice and The Good Fight. 

But what about the cost? Paramount Plus’ two subscription options are offered over two pricing tiers; one at $5.99 a month that includes ads (which will drop to $4.99 later this year) and another with limited ads at $9.99. That premium tier is also the only way subscribers can access 4K, Dolby Vision and HDR content, and the chance to download for offline viewing. Both options feel adequate, which unfortunately, is the resounding feeling we get from Paramount Plus so far as a streaming service.

That could change over time, however, as those bigger originals start to roll out. 

Paramount Plus price and release date 

Paramount Plus launched under its current name on March 4, 2021 with two different options for subscribers. Existing CBS All Access customers have their subscriptions automatically converted to Paramount Plus, and the old app will update on all devices to the new Paramount Plus app.

For newbies, your desire to tolerate ads will inform your monthly subscription. It costs $9.99 a month or $100 a year for limited commercials (local live CBS channels and live sports will include regular ad breaks) or $5.99 a month or $60 a year with commercials. Both options are less than Netflix’s baseline subscription choice which is $8.99/month. 

The 15% annual saving might swing it for those on the fence, and it’s worth noting that students are also eligible for a 25% discount. Alas, there’s no completely free option – which served recent rival Peacock well – but like a majority of streamers, there’s a free trial. If you sign up by March 31, the standard 7-day free trial is extended to 30 days.

On June 5, Paramount Plus will also offer a base tier at $5 a month which removes the local CBS live channel option. This could be a draw for those looking to only watch on-demand shows and movies. 

The Paramount Plus app is available through Apple TV iPhone and iPad, Android TV, Android phone and tablet, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Portal TV, PlayStation 4, Samsung TV, Vizio TV, LG TV, Roku, Xbox, and Xfinity Flex. It’s also available to watch through web browsers at ParamountPlus.com.

Paramount Plus app design and UI

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Paramount Plus

(Image credit: Future/screengrab)
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Paramount PLus

(Image credit: Future/screengrab)
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Paramount PLus

(Image credit: Future/screengrab)

Why reinvent the wheel? The Paramount Plus app hops on the Netflix, Prime, Hulu, HBO Max and Peacock bandwagon and offers a similar interface that users will easily navigate.

Opening the app on an iPhone, you’re given the option to select shows and genres you like so that the app can utilize its algorithm to offer you bespoke content. Once complete, you’re taken to the app’s Home screen, one of five static tabs you can toggle along the bottom of the screen. This screen features a carousel of highlighted content available to stream now (interestingly, none of which was appealing to this writer). Immediately below are the content “brands”, CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel. Clicking on the logo takes you to all the content associated with that network. 

Scroll down the rest of the home screen and you’ll find a series of subheadings with content listed in rows: Shows Recommended For You, On Now, Originals, Comedies, and so on. 

Hit the Browse tab to find content from all networks split into two tabs at the top: Shows and Movies. Below are options to browse either via genre, although those are sadly lacking; there’s no horror option under the movies tab, for example, with a number of slashers dumped under the Thriller tab. 

A small quibble? Perhaps. But considering the popularity of that genre, it’s an oversight that needs to be addressed. Each movie listing shows the plot description along with the trailer, whereas each TV show comes with tabs for Episodes, Extras, Related Shows (more accurately, a 'You may also enjoy') and About. It would be a nice touch if the movies included a Related Movies and Extras section. 

Next is the Live TV tab that’s… exactly what you’d expect. It broadcasts your local CBS network channel. 

Rather strangely, as with CBS All Access, there is no option to add titles to a watchlist. This is one glaring omission that’s sure to draw complaints from users accustomed to a feature that’s standard on most streaming apps. An essential addition to the next major app update, certainly. 

For those who like to watch their content offline, mobile downloads are an option -- but only if you spring for the premium tier and only up to 25 titles. Likewise, users who wish to view 4K content where supported have to similarly opt for the more expensive subscription fee. All subscribers are given the choice to watch on up to three simultaneous devices and can create six profiles, making this a great way for families to divvy up their preferred viewing choices. Although, considering the lack of watchlist, profiles feel a little redundant, other than tracking your progress through a series.

Closed captioning is available across the platform with Audio Description in English available on select titles. 

Paramount Plus content: shows and movies

Paramount Plus content home screen

(Image credit: Future)

Much like Peacock, Paramount Plus siphons its main content into two areas: on-demand (movies and shows) and live (sports and news). Its biggest on-demand draw currently is the huge catalogue of past and current network series available that includes: Blue Bloods, The Brady Bunch, Cheers, Clarice, CSI (CSI and CSI: Miami), Criminal Minds, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Hawaii Five-0, NCIS (NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans), The Real World, Survivor and The Twilight Zone (old and Jordan Peele’s new iteration).

An undoubted weak spot is Paramount Plus Originals, which is where the service lags behind Netflix and the like. The streaming-only Paramount Plus Original exclusives are a SpongeBob Squarepants movie and SponBebob prequel series Kamp Koral, The Real World Homecoming: New York, and an American Vandal-style series, For Heaven’s Sake. The former is exciting for families, yet won’t quite satiate those seeking compelling binge-worthy exclusive shows that most other streamers churn out to lure in new subscribers.

That said, newbies do have the option to lap up previous CBS All Access Originals, now carried over and rebranded as Paramount Plus Originals. That includes flagship properties such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, The Stand, The Good Fight, Stephen Colbert Presents Tooning Out the News, The Good Fight, and Why Women Kill. 

Being part of the Viacom family, there’s oodles here to satiate families under the Nickelodeon banner, including Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Blue's Clues, Dora The Explorer, Drake and Josh, iCarly, Maurice Sendak's Little Bear, Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Fairly OddParents, and SpongeBob SquarePants. And for those in desperate need of a nostalgia hit? There’s the entire Rugrats original series and Are You Afraid of the Dark? 

Despite the breadth of recognizable content, a number of CBS hits are absent due to licensing rights. Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Yellowstone, are all available to stream on other platforms currently.

That being said, the big allure of Paramount Plus is in the promise of future content, which again begs the question: why launch now without any of this topline blockbuster content ready to roll? Still to come is the Halo series, Frasier reboot, two Yellowstone spin-offs, The Man Who Fell To Earth reboot, western drama 6666, a Criminal Minds spin-off, Flashdance series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and a new Beavis and Butthead movie. 

Paramount Plus benefits from the new shakeup at Paramount Pictures. Since integrating with ViacomCBS the movie studio is reducing the typical 90-day window between a movie’s theater debut and its arrival on home video. 

Plans are for some new release movies to arrive on Paramount Plus 30-45 days after their theatrical drops. This includes Mission: Impossible 7, Top Gun: Maverick, the Paw Patrol movie, and A Quiet Place Part II which are scheduled to land on the streaming service within 45 days following their cinema release. Interestingly, the latter has now been moved up to open Memorial Day weekend in the US, so streamers may be able to watch it this summer. It’s likely this will be a tactic used to draw in fresh subscribers. 

Currently, the movie offerings are scant. The big draws are the Indiana Jones franchise, and a few Mission: Impossible movies. However, part of Paramount Pictures' deal with Epix means users can look forward to new movie additions this summer, with library titles from Miramax, Sony, and MGM slated to drop. Paramount’s new genre label, Paramount Players, plans to produce a couple of horror titles output designed specifically to drop on the streaming service: a Pet Sematary prequel and a Paranormal Activity sequel. They’d better get that horror category sorted, eh?

The four live channels included in the premium tier subscription are CBS local news, CBSN (24/7 news), ET Live, and CBS Sports HQ. As they’re all live, they include commercials. Through CBS Sports HQ, Paramount Plus offers access to 1,000 sporting events each year, including The Masters, PGA Tour, and UEFA Champions League.

Should I subscribe to Paramount Plus?

Subscribe if...

You're a nostalgia fan

The network content included is mostly going to be a hit for those seeking shows and movies they’ve already seen and enjoyed.

You like family-friendly content

Mixing in a bunch of CBS All Access originals like The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery with a slew of popular kids series like Spongebob, Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig is a great move.

You’re keen to see new releases 

Paramount Pictures theatrical movies are due to arrive shortly on Paramount Plus with several new titles slated to debut exclusively.

Don't subscribe if...

You want to curate a watchlist

A seriously baffling omission, Paramount Plus doesn’t include the option to add titles to a watchlist, making keeping track of what's on the service a little annoying.

You crave new, original programming

There’s very little new original programming to dive in to here, with promises of bigger series and movies way off in the future. This might take a little time to reach its full potential. 

You want a deeper movie back catalogue

As it stands, the existing range of older movies is sorely lacking, especially when compared to Netflix and HBO Max.

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