CBS All Access is no more and in its place has emerged Paramount+, the latest service to vault into the streaming fray as a paid subscription offering. But Paramount+ also arrives at a tough time for smaller services, which are competing—whether they admit it or not—against much larger giants like Disney+ and Netflix. So, where does Paramount+ fit in, and is it worth it?
That likely depends on the individual viewer’s perception of value, which is in many ways the same question to be asked of all paid content services. But especially with regard to Paramount+, it’s entering a space that’s already jam-packed with services that meet just about every niche interest. It also decided to launch without a free ad-supported tier, which could have helped lure unsure subscribers and which NBCUniversal executives opted to include with rival service Peacock at launch. For existing CBS All Access customers—perhaps cordcutting fans of CBS broadcast programming or its massive trove of Star Trek content—the value in Paramount+ may be more content for the same price. For everyone else, however, I wonder whether the fanfare will be enough to draw them to a new service and potentially away from ones they already enjoy.
First, let’s clear up what Paramount+ actually is. This new streaming service is basically CBS All Access in addition to more stuff from ViacomCBS. After a 30-day free trial, it will cost $10 per month for a premium tier that removes ads from on-demand titles but not from the linear feed, plus additional live sports and CBS live news coverage. In June, Paramount+ will introduce a pared-down, ad-supported tier for $5 per month. Confusingly, at launch, pricing will remain the same as it did for CBS All Access with a $6 plan that includes limited commercials. That option will no longer be available when the new tier launches in June; however, existing CBS All Access subscribers who’ve been grandfathered in can stay on that plan if they so choose.
On Paramount+, you’ll find content hubs from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel, though content from these channels originally appeared on CBS All Access last year. The company also began expanding its kids-focused content late in 2020 with more stuff from Nick Jr. and new features. In other words, CBS All Access had been building a lot of the foundation for Paramount+ prior to its launch. What’s new and specific to the service at launch are its originals—five including 60 Minutes+, For Heaven’s Sake, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, The Real World Homecoming: New York, and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run—as well as an expanded library of episodes of hit series and movies that include The Aviator, Mindhunters, Mission Impossible films, and Gone Baby Gone.
Paramount+ definitely does feel like a catch-all for ViacomCBS assets rather than a single, cohesive product with a strong identity. The service describes itself as a “home to premium entertainment for the whole family,” but the collection of channels here—much like those slapped together to create HBO Max—feels a little odd. Make no mistake: There’s plenty to watch. The service has more than 30,000 episodes of shows and dozens of movies to stream at launch. But it wasn’t clear to me who this product is really trying to serve, only that it has more stuff than CBS All Access.
The organization of these brands on the service felt a little odd, too, though I found the mobile experience was easier to navigate than Paramount+ on desktop. All of its content hubs appear in a row under a prominent featured content carousel. At the top of the page, you’ll find tabs for shows, movies, live TV, “brands,” and news. Much like on Netflix and other services, you’ll find categories on the home page for things like Shows Recommended for You, Keep Watching, Trending, and Originals, among others. But clicking through to individual “brands” pages feels like a crapshoot—everything just appears as a single title catalog. On the shows and movies pages, at least, browsing is organized alphabetically.
It’s possible the service will introduce more content subcategories within these brand pages as it tweaks its product, but as of launch day, it seemed you had better either know exactly what you were looking for or be ready to scroll through a lot of titles to find something to watch. Navigating this service is made more difficult by the absence of any formal watchlist, which might have helped users more easily wade through the content by bookmarking interesting titles as they browsed.
At launch, Paramount+ is available on desktop, iOS and Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Apple TV channels, Chromecast, Facebook Portal, Fire TV, LG Smart TVs, PlayStation 4, Prime Video Channels, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio Smartcast TVs, and Xbox devices. The service is “coming soon” to PlayStation 5, a spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo. Paramount+ will offer up to six user profiles but will be limited to three concurrent streams. The service advertised some series and movies being available in 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision, but a spokesperson told Gizmodo that content is limited to Paramount+ originals and some Smithsonian Channel content.
Presumably, as the service continues to grow, it will bring more to the table for folks who were already indifferent to CBS All Access. Two of this year’s biggest releases, A Quiet Place Part II and Mission: Impossible 7, will head to the service a month and a half after leaving theaters, which could be a potential draw for new subscribers. Paramount+ will also be home to every UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League match and will include coverage of this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Thirty-six exclusive originals will be arriving on the service in 2021—another potential lure to subscribers when they do premiere.
But as of launch day, Paramount+ feels a little unremarkable when compared with its streaming peers. This is maybe less the fault of ViacomCBS as it is a product of the sheer number of services we now have to choose from, and Paramount+ arrived a little late to the party. Again, I think there’s absolutely value in this service for longtime fans of CBS programming, particularly for those whose households include children. But short of bringing more new and shiny offerings to the table, Paramount+ may have trouble convincing new subscribers that it can be great.