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Paramount Plus: A nostalgic CBS All Access replacement that can't beat Netflix

A low price and tons of content, including Star Trek, cater to existing fans, but other services offer more new, original TV and movies.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Paramount Plus, the streaming service formerly known as CBS All Access, is a mashup of streaming services past and present. Like Netflix, it has a wide back catalog of familiar shows to binge, and several originals coming this year. Like Hulu, you can choose from ad-supported or more expensive ad-free plans. Like Peacock, there's a live TV component. Like Disney Plus, you'll find a lot of content for kids, in this case from Nickelodeon. And like HBO Max you'll get major movie releases, although they'll appear shortly after their theatrical premiere, not at the same time. All of this should add up to an exciting service with a lot to offer -- especially for the low $6 entry price -- but ends up feeling like parts of all the ones you already have, without adding much that's new.

7.2

Paramount Plus

Like

  • Wide catalog of familiar shows and movies
  • Strong stable of kids' content from Nickelodeon
  • Will stream some major movies soon after theater release

Don't Like

  • Outside of Star Trek and The Good Fight, not many must-see properties
  • Most compelling originals and movies are coming soon
  • No watchlist
  • Little 4K HDR content

By the numbers, Paramount Plus has a ton of content -- 30,000 episodes of TV and 2,500 movies, plus 36 original series arriving this year. Upcoming shows include two Yellowstone spinoffs, a new Star Trek series and another based on Halo, and new movies like Mission: Impossible 7 arriving 45 days after theaters

Until those new shows and movies land on Paramount Plus, however, its main value lies in nostalgia. You can watch just about every old Nickelodeon show, Comedy Central standup specials and popular series ranging from Frasier and Cheers to Spongebob Squarepants and Young Sheldon. And of course you get existing All Access originals like Star Trek Discovery and The Good Fight, as well as the live feed of your local CBS station. 

Read more: Paramount Plus: Everything to know about CBS All Access' replacement

On the other hand many shows you might expect, including the Paramount Network hit Yellowstone (it's on Peacock), CBS staples The Big Bang Theory (HBO Max) and Two and a Half Men (Peacock again), and Comedy Central's South Park (HBO Max again), are not available on Paramount Plus. Blame licensing.

If you're already a fan of any of the CBS or Viacom shows that are available -- or you're just looking to change up your streaming options after a year of binge-watching -- the Paramount Plus $6-a-month plan is not a bad option. But if you're looking to cut back on your streaming services, it isn't a must-have on the same level as Hulu, for example, which costs the same and has much more variety and original programming.

Select streaming services, compared


Paramount Plus Netflix Hulu Disney Plus HBO Max Peacock
Monthly price Basic $6 with ads, ad-free for $10 Starts at $9 Basic $6 with ads, ad-free Premium for $12, Live TV for $65 $7 $15 Basic free with ads, ad-free for $5
Ads Yes No Yes No No Yes
Availability Now Now Now Now Now Now
Top titles Star Trek, The Good Fight, Spongebob Squarepants, The Godfather trilogy The Queen's Gambit, The Crown, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Tiger King Handmaid's Tale, Palm Springs, PEN15, The Great The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons Game of Thrones, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, Sesame Street The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, early access to Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes Yes (on Premium plan) Yes Yes No No
Number of streams: 3 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 (Unlimited with Live TV $10 add-on) 4 3 3
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Star Trek is one of the originals that drew many fans to Paramount Plus's predecessor, CBS All Access. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What is Paramount Plus, and how is it different from CBS All Access? 

Paramount Plus is a subscription streaming service that launched March 4, replacing CBS All Access, CBS's former streaming platform that started in 2014. Paramount Plus expands on the content that was included with CBS All Access, taking advantage of the 2019 merger of Viacom and CBS.

On Paramount Plus, you'll find live news and sports as well as on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company ViacomCBS' brands like CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. 

If you were a CBS All Access subscriber, your account was automatically transferred over to Paramount Plus. The CBS All Access app should also have automatically turned into the Paramount Plus app on your various devices. 

Paramount Plus costs $10 a month for the ad-free version, or $6 a month with ads. In June, new subscribers will be able to sign up for the ad-supported tier for $5, but those subscribers will lose access to their local CBS stations unless they subscribe to the $10-a-month plan. Those on the $6-a-month plan won't have any changes. The service is available in the US, Canada and 18 Latin American countries. 

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You'll find a mixture of shows and movies on Paramount Plus, along with live sports and news from CBS affiliate stations.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Streaming now: Familiar franchises and originals

Anecdotally, most people I know seem to have signed up for CBS All Access for two reasons: Star Trek or The Good Fight. Those are still the biggest originals exclusive to Paramount Plus.

At launch, you'll find 20 exclusive originals -- far more than Apple TV's nine at the start. Most are from familiar properties that first appeared on CBS All Access, including Jordan Peele's reboot of The Twilight Zone and The Stand. The full Star Trek catalog, including every show in the various series and originals like Discovery, Picard and Lower Decks, will likely remain a major draw for the platform. 

The Real World: Homecoming debuted at launch, based on the seminal MTV reality show and starring the original seven cast members. Paramount Plus promises one new reality series each month. 

One of the biggest draws might be for kids. The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run is another Paramount Plus original available at launch. Nickelodeon's library of nearly 7,000 episodes of kids and family shows includes Spongebob's CG-animated spinoff Kamp Koral, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Paw Patrol and iCarly. Millennials will also find seasons of '90s shows like All That, Kenan & Kel and Are You Afraid of the Dark? It's not Disney Plus, but it's a pretty impressive collection if you're into anything Nickelodeon past or present. 

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You'll find the original Spongebob cartoon along with a new CG-animated series and original movie on Paramount Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Paramount Plus also integrates CBS's 24-hour streaming sports news service, CBS Sports HQ, and will stream more than 1,000 live sporting events per year, including the NFL on CBS and The Masters. 

Due to the Comedy Central connection, you'll find a large selection of standup specials. Weirdly, these are mixed in with comedy movies, when they'd be better off as their own category. 

In terms of other movies, the Paramount Plus collection is… varied. You have classics like The Godfather trilogy, the Indiana Jones franchise and the Mission Impossibles, but also a whole lot of titles I'd forgotten that were in theaters in the '90s and early aughts (hello AI: Artificial Intelligence, Superstar and Rat Race). I did enjoy the trip down memory lane that scrolling through the available movies gave me, but I wouldn't say it's a must-have selection.

Coming soon: Halo, Paramount movies, revivals and spinoffs 

If you aren't a fan of any of those shows or movies, Paramount Plus may bring you in later this year with some of its upcoming originals, including a Halo series based on the hit video game franchise, a CG-animation update of Nickelodeon's Rugrats, a revival of '90s sitcom Frasier, and a long-awaited new animated Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. The service will also launch a new Criminal Minds series, and two spinoffs of popular Paramount series Yellowstone (however, NBC's streaming service Peacock has the rights to the first three seasons of the show). Behind the Music and MTV Unplugged will also return.

Another bonus: Some major Paramount movies will arrive on the streaming service about a month and a half after they premiere in theaters. Mission: Impossible 7 will arrive on Paramount Plus to stream 45 days after it first hits theaters; that would make it available to stream on Jan. 3. PAW Patrol: The Movie should land on Paramount Plus on Oct. 4. 

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You can download the Paramount Plus app on virtually any streaming device. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's it like to use Paramount Plus? 

I tested the app across an Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick, along with an iPhone ($900 at Boost Mobile) and Android phone, and found the experience to be largely the same across all platforms in terms of layout and content. 

Paramount Plus looks very similar to other streaming services: At the top you'll see a few featured titles, and, like on Disney Plus and HBO Max, tiles for each network involved: CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Smithsonian Channel. (If you used CBS All Access, it's basically the same interface.) 

Next is continue watching, trending shows, shows recommended for you and recently added shows. What's a bit different is the On Now row, where you can see what's currently playing on your local CBS networks. For me, that includes my local CBS affiliate station, CBSN (CBS's 24-hour streaming news channel), CBS Sports HQ (CBS's 24-hour streaming sports channel) and ET Live. 

Below that, you'll find a row on Space: The Final Frontier, showcasing all of the Star Trek shows, followed by Sports, Originals, Comedies, Dramas, News, Nickelodeon shows and Daytime. 

If you scroll over to the left sidebar, you'll see Search and Home, along with the ability to search through movies, TV shows, live TV, news and all of the different brands. If you navigate this way, you'll find some nested menus that can be a little tricky depending on what streaming device you're using (for example, when you use the sidebar to check movies, another nested menu lets you choose popular, action, comedy, etc., and then toggle over again to the actual choices). But overall, using the platform is straightforward and simple. 

Paramount Plus is available to stream at ParamountPlus.com and on Paramount Plus mobile apps for Apple iOS devices and Android devices. It will also work on your Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, PlayStation, Xbox and more.

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You won't find a watchlist to save shows on Paramount Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Decent features, but some still missing

Paramount Plus supports 4K and HDR for its originals and some Smithsonian content at launch, but nothing else. It also doesn't support Dolby Atmos sound at the moment. 

You can download up to 25 shows to your mobile device, and stream on three devices at once. You can create up to six separate profiles per account, including profiles with Kids Mode turned on, and decide if you want content for younger kids (rated TV-Y) or older kids (up to TV-PG). Unlike HBO Max, there's no passcode needed for adult profiles, so if your kids wanted to just scroll over to your profile, they could. 

Basically, this is a functional service, but there aren't a ton of bells and whistles. One major missing feature, for example, is a watchlist that lets you bookmark shows and movies to watch later. Just about every other service has one.

Now playing: Watch this: Paramount Plus: First look
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Should you try Paramount Plus? 

If you subscribed to CBS All Access for Star Trek or one of its other originals, keeping your subscription now that it's transferred to Paramount Plus is a no-brainer -- you'll get the same content plus a whole lot more. If you haven't subscribed and already have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or Disney Plus, know that this probably won't replace any of those for you. But if you are looking for some new shows or to revisit old favorites, the $6-a-month ad-supported tier is toward the lower end of streaming service prices. And once more originals and major movie releases arrive, it could be worth your while. 

In the meantime, if you're curious and sign up as a new member in March, you can try out Paramount Plus with a 30-day free trial. After March, the free trial lasts one week.

First published March 5.