Thursday, September 2, 2021

Paramount Plus

Two-minute review

Another day, another streaming platform. This time ViacomCBS has rebranded its existing 10 All Access service as Paramount Plus. It’s been available in the US and Canada since March 2021, however, the streaming service has now officially launched in Australia, and at a cheaper price than the American versions. 

Paramount Plus folds in pre-existing content from 10 All Access along with a raft of on-demand movies and shows from Viacom’s various holdings, Showtime, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Smithsonian Channel, packaged together with US broadcast news and, of course, Paramount Plus Originals.

Paramount Plus plans to make a large number of movies and TV shows available in the near future, with a number of originals and exclusives 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 the Yellowstone prequel series Y: 1883, 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 contenders? A new iCarly series and the SpongeBob SquarePants prequel, Kamp Koral.

Paramount Plus

(Image credit: ViacomCBS)

While you wait for that fresher original content to surface, new subscribers do have immediate access to a decent number of exclusive shows. That said, several drawcard shows from the US version are missing here, including Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, the new adaptation of The Stand, and recent CBS network show Clarice. 

But what about the cost? Contrary to other territories, Paramount Plus only offers a single tier at AU$8.99 per month or AU$89.99 per year. In the US, a cheaper ad-supported tier is also offered, however, we're happy to note that our standard ad-free experience is cheaper than the premium tier offered in American territories.

Of course, that likely has more to do with the Aussie version's smaller content lineup than anything else, leading the service's pricing to feel adequate rather than economical. In fact, adequate is the resounding feeling we get from Paramount Plus so far as a streaming service, in that it doesn't go out of its way to impress us. That could change over time, however, as those bigger originals start to roll out.

Paramount Plus price and release date 

Paramount Plus

(Image credit: ViacomCBS)

Paramount Plus launched under its current name in Australia on August 11, 2021 with just one option for subscribers. Existing 10 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.

After an initial 7-day free trial, Aussies have the option of paying AU$8.99 per month or AU$89.99 per year – the latter of which equates to AU$7.49 per month, which means you get 15% off if you opt to pay the annual fee upfront. 

Disappointingly, the Paramount Plus app has a smaller number of supported devices in Australia than in the US and Canada, and can only be watched via PC/Mac, Apple TV, iPhone and iPad, Android devices, Android TV, Chromecast, Fetch TV and Telstra TV. That means LG and Samsung TV owners will need to get one of the above-listed devices in order to stream the service, and game console owners will have to do the same.

Paramount Plus app design and UI

Why reinvent the wheel? The Paramount Plus app hops on the Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Stan and Binge bandwagon and offers a similar interface that users will easily navigate.

Opening the app on a smartphone, you're offered four static tabs you can toggle along the bottom of the screen in Home, Search, Live TV and More, which is where you can look at your account settings, parental controls and downloads. 

On the TV app, sections are listed along the left side of the screen, and you'll find them along the top of the screen next to the Paramount Plus logo when viewed in a browser window.

Regardless of which version of Paramount Plus you're viewing, the home screen features a carousel of highlighted content available to stream now, and immediately below are the content “brands”, Showtime, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel. 

The brand logo layout looks very similar to what you'll find on the Disney Plus home screen, and just like on that service, clicking on a logo takes you to all the content associated with that network.

Paramount Plus

(Image credit: ViacomCBS)

Scroll down the rest of the home screen and you’ll find a series of subheadings with content listed in rows: Originals and Exclusives, Comedy, Kids favourites, Reality and so on. You'll also find a Keep Watching section, which is the only way to keep track of the shows and movies you're making your way through – but more on that later.

For the most part though, most of the content on Paramount Plus is split into two areas: Shows and Movies. Each of those can be browsed by genre, which is a great way to see how small the movie selection actually is. The Horror section, for instance, features a total of 16 movies, while the Science Fiction section offers just 13 titles.

Each movie listing shows the plot description, subtitle and language options, and little else, whereas each TV show delivers episodes by season, which can be selected via drop-down menu.

Next is the Live TV tab that’s… even less than what you’d expect. It broadcasts US-centric CBSN news content. Australian and international sports content is said to be coming to Paramount Plus at some point, though it certainly isn't available at launch.

Rather strangely, 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 that could very well come in a future app update, though it is disconcerting that the feature still hasn't been added to the US version of Paramount Plus after several months. Profiles are also absent from the app, so everyone in your household will simply have to share a single account.

For those who like to watch their content offline, mobile downloads are an option, and you can select whether you want to download shows and movies in Standard or High Definition in the app's settings. 

That said, streaming quality isn't labelled anywhere in the app, so while it reportedly offers SD, HD and 4K HDR content, there's no real way of knowing which resolution any of its content is offered in. The Paramount Plus app on Apple TV devices will tell you once you've started watching, though the Chromecast and Android TV apps will simply leave you guessing.

We are happy to note, however, that closed captioning is available across the platform with Audio Description in English available on select titles. 

Paramount Plus content: shows and movies

Paramount Plus siphons its main content into two areas: on-demand (movies and shows) and live (news). Its biggest on-demand draw currently is the huge catalogue of past and current network series available that includes: Blue Bloods, Cheers, four different iterations of CSI, three iterations of NCIS, Hawaii Five-0 (both the original and new versions), 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 SpongeBob 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 10 All Access Originals, now carried over and rebranded as Paramount Plus Originals. That includes flagship properties such as The Good Fight and Why Women Kill. However, there's a surprising amount of content from the US version of Paramount Plus that's missing from Australia. That likely has more to do with local licensing issues, with certain shows available to stream on other platforms, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing. Any way you spin it, the complete list of Paramount Plus exclusives in Australia is minuscule, as you can see in the image below.

Paramount Plus

(Image credit: ViacomCBS)

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.

The big promise of Paramount Plus for many people is that the service is due to receive major Paramount blockbusters shortly after their theatrical release. In the US, it's been announced early on that some new release movies will arrive on Paramount Plus shortly after their theatrical drops. This includes Mission: Impossible 7, Top Gun: Maverick (both of which have now been delayed into 2022), 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. It’s likely this will be a tactic used to draw in fresh subscribers, but that doesn't seem to be the case with the app's Australian version. 

For instance, A Quiet Place Part II came out in Australia back in May and is nowhere to be seen on Paramount Plus. In fact, the biggest new release movie available on the Aussie service seems to be the much-maligned Mark Wahlberg actioner Infinite, which is not going to inspire many to sign up.

Currently, the movie offerings are scant. The big draws are the Indiana Jones franchise, and a few Mission: Impossible movies, which most people either already own or have seen in one way or another.

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 10 All Access exclusives like The Good Fight and iCarly with a slew of popular kids series like SpongeBob, Ren & Stimpy and Paw Patrol is a great move.

You’re hyped about the promise of new releases 

If the Australian version of Paramount Plus follows the example of its US counterpart, we could get Paramount Pictures theatrical movies arriving shortly after release on Paramount Plus. However, that's a big if.

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 Disney Plus.


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