Paramount+ Unveil Review: Felt Like CBS All Access Deja View

Cheyne Gateley/VIP

ViacomCBS Investor Day intended to hype up new streaming brand Paramount+, but the problem was that a large proportion of the unveiling was spent on highlighting features that already exist within CBS All Access, the service being rebooted. 

CEO Bob Bakish made much of the upgraded streamer featuring “exclusive” sport and live news, but poking around in the weeds reveals a different tale. 

With sports, Paramount+ is essentially the same as CBS All Access, providing streaming access to sports airing on CBS. Given the success that the hallmark UEFA Champions League competition has had for CBS All Access in signing up new subscribers, CBS chief George Cheeks said Paramount+ would be doubling down on soccer but then announced acquisitions — U.S. domestic women’s soccer, Brazilian soccer, and CONCACAF Nations fixtures — that would hardly set soccer fans’ pulses racing.

Given Paramount+ will lack exclusive NFL games, Cheeks announced that the streamer would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it will be taking “Inside the NFL” from fellow ViacomCBS streaming service Showtime. 

For news, Bakish and Cheeks made much of Paramount+ featuring live news, but there is little exclusive news on the SVOD. Instead, it is a hodgepodge of news that’s available for free on CBS, Pluto and online.  

Paramount+ will carry national news shows from CBS, local affiliate feeds from across the country, and CBSN. It’s true that few paid streaming platforms carry streaming news (free streamers Tubi, Pluto and STIRR will have hundreds of live news channels between them once Tubi ramps up carriage of local Fox affiliates), but streaming rival Peacock will be debuting an exclusive news channel later this year 

Knowing this, and promising news as a core offering but lacking a similar option is a little baffling. 

Aside from sports and news, Bakish made it clear he believes Paramount+ will thrive due to his company’s perhaps underappreciated role in creating zeitgeisty hits to date. Citing Netflix hits like “13 Reasons Why,” “Dead to Me” and “Haunting of Bly Manor” as shows that actually originated from ViacomCBS studios, Bakish implied if the company redirected more of its energy toward creating more titles for Paramount+ only, the new streamer would be successful.

The only issue with this argument is that titles like “13 Reasons” and “Haunting” likely only generated the buzz they did because they were available on a platform with a reach as large as Netflix’s. Instead of pointing to examples of titles ViacomCBS has created for other streamers, would it had not been a more compelling message to just shed more light on previously buzzy CBS All Access originals?  

For all the emphasis the presentation put on sports and news, Paramount+ did announce an impressive array of original programming including shows based on existing IP such as the return of “Frasier” and new shows from the likes of Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah. This will attract some new subscribers, but what would have made a truly compelling offering would have been to fold Showtime into the service. 

A Showtime/Paramount+ hybrid would create a deep, ongoing library of award-winning scripted content that could easily go head-to-head with the likes of HBO Max, Hulu and Prime Video. Unfortunately, ViacomCBS are wedded to the idea of replicating the TV model with streaming — free, paid, and premium paid — meaning they will have two competing services offering premium-level scripted content. 

Meanwhile, it’s good to see that ViacomCBS is prioritizing making Paramount+ a need-to-have for kids and family. The company mentioned with it would stock Paramount+ new originals based on kid-friendly hits, like Avatar: The Last Airbender” (with the establishment of Avatar Studios) and SpongeBob SquarePants (via “Kamp Koral).  

As we pointed out in our latest edition of Dare to Stream, Paramount+ appears to be one SVOD that particularly needs to focus on this goal. In an early December 2020 survey by YouGov for VIP, 11% and 8% of Gen Zers and millennials said they used CBS All Access in the past month, respectively. Meanwhile, those figures were 17% (Gen Zers) and 19% (millennials) for HBO Max. 

Another strong point of Paramount+ will be its movie offering. For example, Paramount theatrical-releasing films, like “A Quiet Place 2, will be offered on Paramount Plus after a newly shortened window of 45 days. Offering more of these movies on rebranded CBS All Access will be important to meet potentially rising consumer expectations for new big-budgeted films on SVODs, as HBO Max offers 17 Warner Bros. films on its service the same day they hit theaters throughout 2021.  

However, we’re at the point now where there are plenty of presentations to compare the Paramount+ unveil to.   

The strong point of Apple’s March 2019 streaming presentation was parading the many stars that they’d be working with. During Peacock’s January 2020 presentation, management did a good job on explaining the rationale of why it wanted to prioritize its ad-supported tier.  

The Paramount+ unveil definitely leaned a little on star power and explained the Paramount rebranding rationale, though the biggest thing some investors might have taken away from the presentation is confirmation that the rebranded CBS All Access will essentially be “CBS All Access-and-more,” a kitchen sink-content strategy already employed by the media congloms with new SVOD launches that preceded it.  

The only issue with ViacomCBS doing this is a kitchen sink-content strategy sounds less compelling after Peacock, HBO Max and Disney+ have already done it in a streaming market where there is surely no shortage of content.