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Paramount+: A 9-Month Checkup

The ViacomCBS service hasn't reached the top of Streaming Mountain quite yet.
  • Paramount+ boasts a diverse library of content, but is that enough to compete in the Streaming Wars? (Photo: ViacomCBS)
    Paramount+ boasts a diverse library of content, but is that enough to compete in the Streaming Wars? (Photo: ViacomCBS)

    It was nearly nine months ago that ViacomCBS launched Paramount+, a rebranded version of CBS All Access that offers its subscribers expanded access to the company’s vast portfolio. CBS sitcoms, original dramas, Nickelodeon shows, Paramount Pictures movies, live sports… Paramount+ would offer it all for the low price of $4.99/month with ads, or $9.99/month commercial-free. Or so went the messaging of the glitzy promotional campaign that preceded its arrival.

    Of course, simply having a diverse content library doesn’t automatically translate into overnight success, especially in such a crowded field, and like any fledgling service, Paramount+ has had its fair share of stumbles along the way. Here are ten major storylines — five peaks, and five valleys — that have defined Paramount+’s first nine months:

    Peak: Paramount+ is Exceeding Subscriber Targets

    Let’s be honest: Paramount+ isn’t about to become the next Netflix, but it has shown steady growth over its first nine months. In its Q3 earnings call last week, ViacomCBS announced that it added 4.3 million streaming subscribers from July through September, bringing its total subscriber base to 47 million worldwide. This figure would seem to put Paramount+ on track to meet its goal of hitting 65 to 75 million subscribers by 2024. In fact, with the service set to launch in the UK, key European territories, and Russia in early 2022, and a new distribution deal with T-Mobile on the books, it’s likely that Paramount+ subscriptions will meet the low end of the 65-75 million range by 2023, or perhaps even earlier.

    Valley: The CBS All Access Confusion

    When Paramount+ first launched in early March, it did so under a very large, CBS All Access-shaped cloud. Rather than launch a completely new service, ViacomCBS used CBS All Access as a base for Paramount+ and offered existing users the opportunity to roll over their subscriptions, a decision that left subscribers with many questions about the platform’s new pricing scheme and content offerings. Months later, Paramount+’s rocky launch may be in its rear-view mirror, but some confusion remains: according to Google Trends, “CBS All Access” remains the top related query for the nascent service. Also a disappointment for some, Showtime (which is also owned by ViacomCBS) remains a separate service, requiring a separate $10 monthly subscription.

    Peak: The Real World Homecoming Appeals to Viewers’ Nostalgia

    The Real World Homecoming: New York was among a small handful of new original series available to stream on Paramount+’s launch day, and it quickly became a word-of-mouth hit. Nostalgic Gen X viewers flocked to the reality revival, with Primetimer’s Joe Reid describing it as a “reminder of the fraught state of reconnecting with family in 2021.” Paramount+ has not released specific viewership data for The Real World Homecoming, but the series has already been renewed for two more seasons — a Los Angeles-set season premiering November 24, and a New Orleans reunion — so it seems safe to assume that execs are happy with its performance.

    Valley: Mission: Impossible 7 and Top Gun: Maverick Move to 2022

    In February 2021, Paramount took a page out of HBO Max’s book when it announced that several of its major tentpole films, most notably Mission: Impossible 7, Top Gun: Maverick, and A Quiet Place Part II, would be available to stream on its new service 45 days after they hit theaters. The move was met with widespread excitement from homebound fans, but new COVID variants ended up getting in the way, and the studio ended up pushing M:I 7 and the long-awaited Top Gun sequel to 2022 (A Quiet Place Part II debuted on the platform over the summer, following its May 28 theatrical release). As a result, Paramount+ has seen its cinematic relevance diminish, a disappointing outcome for a service with “Paramount” in its name.

    Peak: Evil Grows Its Fanbase on Streaming

    Few could have predicted that Michelle and Robert King’s supernatural drama Evil would experience something of a renaissance on streaming. The drama’s first season performed well enough on CBS, but after its second season was picked up by Paramount+, interest in the series skyrocketed. The Kings have said that moving to streaming was a “godsend” creatively, as they’re now able to play with episode lengths and lean into their more out-of-the-box ideas, and fans seem to agree: when Evil was renewed just a few weeks into Season 2, Paramount+ noted that viewership was growing week to week, although no specifics were revealed.

    Valley: The Offer Shuts Down Production After Miles Teller Contracts COVID-19

    Of Paramount+’s upcoming releases, The Offer may be the most high-profile — and the most dramatic behind-the-scenes. In July, production on the series, which depicts the making of The Godfather, was halted after Miles Teller tested positive for COVID-19. When the news broke weeks later, an insider told the Daily Mail that Teller was not vaccinated, adding, “he wouldn’t even get the test. Now he’s brought the virus to the set and the whole set had to shut down.” (Teller’s publicist said that these “facts are incorrect,” but declined to explain further).

    Last month, The Hollywood Reporter noted that The Offer’s production stoppage cost $6 million. A rep for Paramount+ countered that the figure was below $6 million, but a multi-million dollar loss of any amount is a serious problem for a fledgling streamer, both financially and from a PR perspective.

    But while The Offer remains a valley at the moment, it still has the potential to be a peak for Paramount+ when it debuts. The limited series boasts a massive ensemble packed with A-listers, including Colin Hanks, Matthew Goode, Lou Ferrigno, Juno Temple, and Michael Gandolfini. Expect it to be a major player when the 2022-2023 awards season rolls around.

    Peak: Paramount+ Has Live Sports

    To quote Hulu + Live TV, Paramount+ also has live sports. Subscribers in the U.S. are able to take advantage of special NFL on CBS programming (including NFL games airing on their local CBS stations), as well as college football, The Masters and PGA Championship coverage, March Madness, BIG3 Basketball, and more.

    But it’s soccer fans who get the most bang for their buck on Paramount+. In recent years ViacomCBS has acquired the U.S. streaming rights to every UEFA Champions League match, a deal that's made the streamer a leading destination for soccer lovers. Subscribers can also watch UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and Italy’s Serie A and Coppa Italia games. In late May, the UEFA Champions League Final averaged 2.095 million viewers across CBS Sports and Paramount+; Paramount+ registered record viewership for the event, which now holds the record for the platform’s most live-streamed non-NFL sporting event ever.

    Valley: Other Live Programming Requires a Premium Subscription

    While the sports programming listed above is available to all Paramount+ subscribers whether you’re an Essential/Ad-Supported ($4.99/month or $49.99/year) or Premium/Commercial Free ($9.99/ month or $99.99/year) customer, if you want to watch CBS live, you’ll have to pay for the Premium package. This discrepancy has caused further confusion among subscribers, particularly those less inclined to stream sports, and more interested in watching primetime television. These Essential customers can still watch their favorite CBS shows the following day on Paramount+, but they’ll first have to dodge the spoiler-filled landmine known as social media.

    Peak: SpongeBob and Paw Patrol Continue to Resonate with Kids

    Paramount+’s children’s programming has mostly flown under the radar in its first nine months, but it remains a key element of the platform’s success. The service launched with two SpongeBob titles, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run and prequel series Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, the latter of which has already been renewed for a second season. In fact, the service’s two other kid-friendly shows, Nickelodeon’s Rugrats reboot and the animated Star Trek: Prodigy, have also already been renewed, while live-action Dora the Explorer and The Fairly OddParents remakes are in the development pipeline.

    On the film front, Paramount+ made the decision to release Paw Patrol: The Movie concurrently in theaters (where it grossed $128.1 million worldwide) and on streaming, giving families everywhere the opportunity to see the film in a comfortable setting. The streamer is doing the same with Clifford the Big Red Dog, Walt Becker’s animated take on the beloved children’s book series.

    Valley: Yellowstone Isn’t Available to Stream

    When Yellowstone first debuted in June 2018, it became Paramount Network’s most successful original scripted series of all time, and its popularity has only increased in the years since. With this in mind, it’s understandable that fans were left scratching their heads when Paramount+ launched without Yellowstone. Months later, subscribers still can’t stream Paramount Network’s most popular show, which kicked off its fourth season on November 7.

    So, what’s the problem? As part of a deal inked in early 2020, Peacock holds streaming rights to Yellowstone, and the first three seasons are currently available exclusively on the NBCUniversal-owned service. Season 4 episodes are only available on the Paramount Network app and website (not Paramount+, the standalone streaming service), with a valid cable log-in required to watch.

    Signing a Yellowstone streaming deal with Peacock would seem to have been a major misstep on the part of ViacomCBS, but there’s hope for Paramount+ yet. The service is currently working on two different Yellowstone spinoffs: 1883, a drama starring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill set to debut in December, and 6666, a present-day outing set on the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas. Both series will air exclusively on Paramount+, so the platform may still be able to win back some subscribers from Peacock.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Paramount+, Evil, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years, The Offer, The Real World Homecoming, Yellowstone, ViacomCBS