There are four companies that can easily be defined as media conglomerates: AT&T (WarnerMedia), Comcast (NBCUniversal), Disney, and ViacomCBS. Of course, there are other major companies like Netflix, AMC Networks, Discovery, and Amazon, and while they are very successful, they don't necessarily have either the same reach, or the same massive media ownership. However, of the eight listed companies, one of them is going to have an issue obtaining an audience in streaming, at least in the short term. That company is ViacomCBS.
All eight of the above companies have a streaming platform. AT&T (WarnerMedia) has HBO Max, Comcast (NBCU) has Peacock, Disney has Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+, ViacomCBS has Paramount+, Netflix has Netflix, AMC has AMC+, Discovery has Discovery+, and Amazon has Prime Video. Of those eight, seven have what I would consider a real robust answer for why someone would want to subscribe to their service. HBO Max is HBO, so of course it has a large audience, as well as Friends. Peacock has The Office, as well as NBC Sports. Disney is Disney, ESPN is ESPN, and Hulu built an audience of tens of millions of subscribers over the years. Netflix is Netflix. AMC+ has The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad just to name a few. Discovery has all the cable staples. And Amazon is Amazon and they have a ridiculous amount of money.
That just leaves Paramount+ as the odd one out. ViacomCBS of course has CBS, the most watched network, and a big reason why ViacomCBS even has a streaming service: because Paramount+ is basically just CBS All Access with a fresh coat of paint and a more general name. Beyond that, I'm not sure if the service has the same wide appeal due to a few issues.
Issue #1: The Content is on Rival Services
For anyone thinking Paramount+ is a one-stop for all content from the ViacomCBS, you are mistaken.
Before Viacom merged with CBS, Viacom didn't have a robust streaming strategy. They bought Pluto TV, a free ad-supported streaming service, but other than that, they had no paid general audience service. They had a few smaller streaming services like BET+, Nick Jr's Noggin, and they operated a few streaming channels on Amazon Prime Video, but other than that, there was no one service that encompassed the Viacom library. So, they licensed out the most valuable shows to the highest streaming service bidder and put the rest on Pluto TV. HBO Max got exclusive streaming rights to South Park, and other Comedy Central shows that failed to reach a mass audience on the cable channel. Peacock got Yellowstone, one of the only hits the Viacom channels have had in many years. Beyond that, Amazon got SpongeBob and a few Paramount Television shows, Netflix got a few series like Emily in Paris, and Hulu got other miscellaneous shows, and those same services had a few Paramount movies. With Viacom, there was no one exclusive home for their content, it just went wherever the highest bidder would pay. And in some cases, the deals were exclusive ones, some lasting for several years.
There were some deals that took place where a ViacomCBS show is on Paramount+, as well as rival services, like Chappelle's Show and SpongeBob. The more lucrative deals for ViacomCBS were also ones that made the content exclusive to rival services. Take the HBO Max South Park deal. We don't know for certain how long the show will be on HBO Max, but we do know that it is exclusive, and in the past, Hulu's South Park deal lasted at least three years. We can assume the same for Yellowstone on Peacock.
Let's not forget the movie Coming 2 America, a Paramount Picture, IS NOT on Paramount+. The deal was made with Amazon back in October, when CBS All Access wasn't a highly publicized service. If I had to take a guess, Paramount needed to make some money back on the completed movie by the end of the year, and with theaters closed, they probably thought the movie wouldn't make enough money through CBS All Access. So, they sold it to the highest bidder, which ended up being Amazon. The original plan was to premiere the movie in November/December 2020, but that ended up being delayed and the movie premiered at the worst possible time: March 5th, the day after Paramount+ launched. It made potential customers and media reviewers question why a Paramount movie with big star recognition was not going to be the premiere launch movie for Paramount+, among other hype that didn't match the marketing surrounding it.
Issue #2: The Content Didn't Change Much as Paramount+
On March 4th, I opened the newly updated Paramount+ app to find that when compared to March 3rd, nothing much had changed. There was a new logo, and there were a handful of Paramount+ originals, but that was it. With all the hype surrounding the "mountain of entertainment," my assumption was that ViacomCBS would fill in the gaps missing on the service. There are current shows that don't have the latest seasons in them, like Tosh.0. There are comedy specials that recently aired on Comedy Central that aren't on the service. You can now watch The Daily Show the day after, but other than that, CBS All Access customers who were expecting this big new service simply got a new name, and a handful of shows.
Some people may be interested in the new content, like the new SpongeBob movie and spinoff series, and The Real World Homecoming reunion series, but this isn't what brings people in for a premiere to a streaming service. What will bring in the buzz will be the series about the making of The Godfather, and the Yellowstone spinoffs by Taylor Sheridan. But, those are not here yet, and they won't be for months. I'm sure ViacomCBS had some short-term financial reasons for needing to sell off Coming 2 America within 2020, but it really would've helped if they held onto not only that, but the other Paramount movies they sold off in that time. Those would've absolutely made the service something more substantial.
Paramount+ absolutely has a great deal of content, and much of it is nostalgic for people who are my age and grew up with all the Nickelodeon shows on the service, and then moved on to some of the Comedy Central shows and specials on the service, but other than that, is Drake and Josh or The Jersey Shore why a majority of people would subscribe to a service? ViacomCBS has an audience for sure, but given the content currently on the service, I doubt it has a mass appeal, at least right now. In year or so, we'll see what the upcoming original shows can do, and in a few more years, we'll see if the addition of South Park and Yellowstone will catch a few more eyes, but there's an even bigger issue with the service.
Issue #3: Paramount+ is One of a Few Streaming Services ViacomCBS Offers
If you observe rival companies' streaming services, you'll notice many offer a flagship streaming service, and maybe a few niche ones. HBO Max is clearly AT&T (WarnerMedia)'s flagship service, but they also offer Boomerang, a classic cartoon service, both marketed and priced as a supplemental streamer. HBO Max is $15, and Boomerang is $5 a month. Disney's strategy is to position Disney+ for families, Hulu as a more general entertainment service, and ESPN+ for sports fans, and they're all priced accordingly, with Disney at a very attractive lower cost. ViacomCBS's strategy is a lot more complicated.
ViacomCBS uses a free, paid, premium streaming strategy. Pluto TV is free, Paramount+ is paid, and there's a few services that are certainly eligible for the premium title. The first is Showtime, which has long offered premium content in an HBO-style, and priced as such. The next is BET+, with exclusive content from producers like Tyler Perry, priced at $9.99. Last, there's Noggin, an app with Nick Jr books, games, and video for $7.99. Oh, and the only service that gives you a discount for subscribing with Paramount+ is Showtime, which is a pricing deal dating back to CBS All Access, when the stand-alone CBS also owned Showtime.
This is pretty damn confusing. Of all the services that aren't Disney or Netflix, Peacock probably has the best streaming strategy. Free and paid are all one app, and they're easily identifiable. News and sports are also a big Peacock priority, as it is in Paramount+, so they have distinct tabs in the menu bar. There is also a kids tab and the Channels tab for a live TV experience with Peacock content. All in one app.
The ViacomCBS strategy is nowhere near as clear. In fact, I would argue that most consumers have no idea Pluto TV, Paramount+, Showtime, and BET+ are all owned by the same company. The strategy for ViacomCBS is to start people out with Pluto TV, then lure them in with a paid Paramount+ subscription so they can unlock more content, and then somehow entice them to also subscribe to Showtime or BET+. All while not advertising this anywhere on any service. There isn't a button on Pluto TV to show on-demand free previews of Paramount+ content. There isn't a button on top of Paramount+ to encourage people to also subscribe to Showtime or BET+. And there isn't a button on Showtime or BET+ to encourage a Paramount+ subscription or to watch Pluto TV.
Issue #4: How Do I Know Which Service to Subscribe to?
Beavis and Butthead is getting a revival that will premiere on Comedy Central. Before the series goes on the air, a Beavis and Butthead movie will premiere on Paramount+ to catch us up on the duo. So, if I want to watch the movie, I have to watch it on the streaming service, but then I have to watch the show on cable? Then, will I be able to watch it on Paramount+ after it airs on Comedy Central?
This seems to be an unanswered question, and one that needs to be addressed. The move Comedy Central, MTV, and Paramount Network intend to do into 2021 and beyond is to premiere more movies and documentaries rather than television series, with more than 100 movies across the three networks in a year. So, will these offerings be available on Paramount+ after they air? I don't even care if takes a day or a week before they arrive on Paramount+, if they are going to advertise that Comedy Central and MTV are brands within Paramount+, there needs to be a stronger connection with linear and Paramount+. Those shows need to air on Paramount+ in a relatively short time frame.
Not to mention, how does ViacomCBS decide where a new series or movie will premiere? There are series and movies planned for the linear CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, and Paramount Network, as well as Paramount+, Showtime, and BET+, so what is the decision to place a show on one service over another? With some exceptions, I would argue that some of the upcoming Paramount+ series could fit into Showtime. As a consumer, I know I can expect premium content with Showtime, but aren't I assuming the same with Paramount+? Some could air on CBS or Paramount Network and probably do very well. I'd really like to know the thought process behind some shows airing on linear and streaming, and which side of streaming.
My Solution for Paramount+
I can understand why Pluto TV is the outside free solution. It has tens of millions of users, so it might as well stay where it is. But the paid solutions absolutely need to be consolidated, especially since with the exception of Showtime, none of them are exactly massively successful. Paramount+ should be the one discrete service a user can subscribe to, and Showtime, BET+, and Noggin should be paid aspects of the service that can be unlocked.
For example, there is already a BET button on the home section of Paramount+. Right now, the button has some BET shows from the channel. If BET+ were a part of Paramount+, there would also be free previews of some BET+ original shows, and to unlock either the rest of a season or the movies, you need to pay to unlock that section. Same with Showtime: there should be a Showtime section with Showtime shows, but to unlock the linear live stream of the channel and to get more seasons of the shows, you need to pay for the Showtime section. And of course, Nick Jr shows are in the Nickelodeon button, but to get Nick Jr books and games to make the kids profile more enticing, you need to unlock the Noggin section.
If ViacomCBS wants to have premium offerings, fine, but it makes no sense to fragment all of these services outside the one service designed to be the mass market offering. Additional subscriptions inside Paramount+ may upset some customers, but it will not only give Paramount+ more premium content, but also more of a reason for anyone to consider subscribing to the service. If the premium add-ons are priced accordingly, it could work in ViacomCBS's favor to not only keep a premium subscription model in play while bolstering Paramount+ as the flagship service with all offerings.
We still don't know enough about Paramount+ to make 100% judgments on the service at this time, but the marketing left a lot to be desired. Not to mention the confusing fragmentation of services under the ViacomCBS belt, I just don't see Paramount+ getting a large subscriber base anytime soon with premium services outside of the mountain.
ViacomCBS has a confusing array of options, and while rival services also have their own drawbacks, simply put, ViacomCBS is too small to compete with the big players. Without consolidating their streaming options, the content output of Paramount+, BET+ and Showtime is not enough to compete with Disney and Netflix.