Yesterday, Paramount Plus celebrated its first birthday. During its first year, the service premiered a SpongeBob movie, adding original shows like 1883, and shocked us with exclusives like the second season of Evil, which was previously only available on CBS. Plus, Paramount Plus has snatched the highly anticipated live-action Halo series from sibling channel Showtime, which is slated to premiere this month.
However, a year after its debut, Paramount Plus is still struggling with its identity: the streaming service has yet to demonstrate why we should care about it beyond its extensive Star Trek library and fixation with Yellowstone. So yet, it appears that Paramount is struggling to strike a balance between supporting its core business units and investing in its tentpole streaming service.
Many of these inquiries are related to Paramount Plus’ so far unconventional content strategy, which has been described as an anti-Netflix plan. The service promised a “mountain of content” when it transitioned from CBS All Access in March 2021, bringing all of Paramount’s properties under one roof. Live sports, news, and entertainment, as well as a backlog of programming from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and the Smithsonian Channel, promised to give putative “fans” of CBS All Access, even more, to watch while simultaneously appealing to a broader audience.
The issue is that some of Paramount’s (formerly ViacomCBS) material that should have enticed users to the service isn’t available to stream. For example, South Park is currently available on HBO Max after the streaming service won a bidding war for the show just over two years ago. Yellowstone, another iconic Paramount film, is currently airing new episodes on the Paramount Network cable channel and, oddly enough, Peacock.
“THE PROBLEM IS THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE A HIGH-ACQUISITION TITLE.” ALL OF THEIR EXPENSIVE TITLES CAN BE FOUND ELSEWHERE.”
Tanya Giles, Paramount’s chief programming officer for streaming, recently explained the Yellowstone issue. According to Deadline, she stated that ViacomCBS “had content licensing deals long before [Paramount Plus] was thought of,” and that “our approach to that, our fantastic solution, was to establish a broad world of Yellowstone by presenting 1883, its prequel, exclusively to [Paramount Plus].” Its licensing business made money in the near term, but it doesn’t fit into a long-term streaming strategy.
This puts Paramount Plus in a pickle. To date, it’s had a few catchy names, including Star Trek and SpongeBob spinoffs. But, when compared to services like Disney Plus and Netflix, which release a slew of new originals on a regular basis and invest billions in content, the question becomes: Where are Paramount Plus’s other dazzling originals? What happened to Stranger Things and WandaVision?
Despite having decades of excellent crime procedurals, comedy, and children’s programming, Paramount Plus has yet to have its own Stranger Things moment, which may help it establish itself as a serious streaming contender. Even with that wonderful back library of franchise content, Alexander adds that in order to stay competitive, Paramount Plus must take the risk that another of its shows will be the next Yellowstone, and thus must live on Paramount Plus in order to attract new customers.
To its credit, ViacomCBS appears to understand that the content and licensing policies in place when it launched Paramount Plus a year ago are no longer viable if it wants to run a profitable streaming business. Last summer, the company underwent a major executive restructure, and CEO Bob Bakish stated during a recent earnings call that the company plans to claw back some of its older titles, including South Park, in the coming years, indicating that Paramount intends to stay competitive in the streaming space, at least for the time being.
At the same time, Paramount is beginning to address its problem with showy content. This month, the service will release a number of highly anticipated titles, including Star Trek: Picard and Halo, as well as new projects from Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. Last October, the business announced a Showtime bundle, which, at $12 per month for essential and $15 per month for premium, is a great deal for two premium services that normally cost $5 and $11 per month, respectively.
“IT’S TOO EARLY TO SAVE ON PARAMOUNT PLUS, IN THE SAME WAY IT’S TOO EARLY TO SAVE ON ANY OF THEM.”
It will take some time to complete some of these tasks. South Park won’t be available until 2025, and it’ll take a while to quench the thirst for even more Yellowstone projects. Until then, the service will have to rely on its back catalog and the occasional big name to keep it afloat.
“They haven’t produced a Netflix competitor,” Rosen argues, “but they have built something that is valuable to fans of their various forms of content throughout the world — and they have actual audiences around the world.” “It’s a little harsh to say they’ve failed. At the same time, claiming that they have a Netflix competitor is a bit of an exaggeration.”
The company, Paramount Plus, is expanding. On its most recent earnings conference, the firm announced 32.8 million customers. (In its first year, Disney Plus, which debuted in 2019, has about 73 million paid customers.) It’s also too early to write off Paramount Plus, according to Alexander, who estimates that it will take six to eight months to see the effects of Paramount’s changing business plan.
“I think it’s too early to discount Paramount Plus,” Alexander adds, “just as it’s too early to discount any of them.” “They’re all still trying to figure it out,” says the narrator.
Even with a bad content strategy out of the gate, Paramount Plus has proven its worth in the streaming world. All it has to do now is persuade us that it’s worth our time.
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