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Paramount Plus Review: Nostalgia-Rich Streaming Service That Can't Beat Netflix

NFL games, SpongeBob, reality TV, Star Trek and a low monthly price may lure you in, but newness isn't its strength.

NFL games for this season and CBS show premieres may have you thinking about a Paramount Plus subscription. The platform houses films, popular cartoons, TV series like NCIS and live sports, making it feel like a mashup of streaming services past and present. And now that Showtime shows and movies are part of the app, you can even upgrade your experience for a few extra dollars.

Like Netflix, Paramount Plus has an extensive library of familiar, binge-worthy series and reality shows, but with a small bucket of originals. 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 that appear shortly after their theatrical premiere. All of this should add up to an exciting service with a lot to offer -- especially for the low $5 entry price -- but ends up feeling like parts of all the ones you already have.

7.2

Paramount Plus

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Like

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

Don't Like

  • Outside of Star Trek, Evil and 1883, not many must-see originals
  • Must have premium to get local CBS stations

By the numbers, Paramount Plus has a ton of content -- 30,000 episodes of TV and 2,500 movies, plus more than three dozen original series. Yellowstone spinoff 1883 is already a major hit, and it's backed up by audience favorites SEAL Team and Evil. Upcoming shows include Yellowstone spinoff 1932, a new Star Trek series and another show based on Halo

Parents can assure their kids that more SpongeBob, Blue's Clues, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Monster High content is on the horizon, and new movies like Mission: Impossible 7 will be arriving 45 days after theaters. This September, Paramount Plus merged Showtime content into the app, giving you access to more than 600 titles if you sign up for a bundled plan. 

Even with all those additions, much of Paramount Plus' value lies in nostalgia. You can watch just about every old Nickelodeon show, including All That, Comedy Central standup specials and popular series ranging from Frasier and Cheers to SpongeBob SquarePants and Young Sheldon. And, of course, you get existing originals like Star Trek Discovery and The Good Fight, as well as the live feed of your local CBS station if you spring for the $10-per-month ad-free option. 

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) are not available on Paramount Plus. It's the case with South Park, too, but the streaming service will soon bring it back to its home base. 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 -- the Paramount Plus $5-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 nearly the same and has much more variety and original programming.

Select streaming services, compared


Paramount Plus Netflix Hulu Peacock HBO Max Disney Plus
Monthly price $5 for basic with ads, $10 for ad-free Starts at $10 Basic $7 with ads, ad-free Premium for $13, Live TV for $70 Basic free with ads, ad-free for $5 $10 for basic with ads, $15 for ad-free $8
Ads Yes No Yes Yes No No
Top titles Star Trek: Picard, NCIS, 1883, SpongeBob, Ru-Paul's Drag Race Stranger Things, Squid Game, Bridgerton, Ozark, Money Heist Handmaid's Tale, Pen15, The Great, Bob's Burgers The Office, 30 Rock, Bel-Air, Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon House of the Dragon, Dune, Euphoria, DC titles The Mandalorian, Loki, Encanto, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes (with national launch in July) Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes Yes (on Premium plan) Yes No Yes (limited titles) Yes
Number of streams: 3 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 (Unlimited with Live TV $9.99 add-on) 3 3 4
042-paramount-plus-launch-3-4-2021

Star Trek originals continue to draw fans to Paramount Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How much is Paramount Plus?

Paramount Plus offers live news and sports as well as on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company Paramount Global brands like CBS, MTV, BET, VH1, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus the Paramount Pictures movie studio. There are also more than one dozen live channels that stream curated content 24/7 and Showtime titles.

Paramount Plus costs $10 a month for the ad-free Premium subscription, or $5 a month for the ad-based Essential plan, which does not have access to your local CBS stations. For that, you'll need to subscribe to the $10-a-month plan. The service is available in the US, Canada and 18 Latin American countries. 

Showtime content is now available directly in the app, but you must pay for the Paramount Plus Showtime bundle to watch it. Right now, the bundle is available at a discount but typically costs $12 monthly for the Essential plan, and $15 a month for Premium. 

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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

What you can stream on Paramount Plus

Anecdotally, most people I know seem to have signed up for the service for two reasons: Star Trek or The Good Fight. With the addition of Yellowstone prequel 1883, Evil and the iCarly reboot, they're among the most popular originals exclusive to Paramount Plus.

At launch, there were 20 exclusive originals -- far more than the nine titles available at Apple TV's 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. With the integration of Showtime content into the app, viewers who pay for the Paramount Plus Showtime bundle can access even more TV shows. If you skip the bundle, you'll notice Showtime titles are marked with a padlock within the app. 

The Real World: Homecoming debuted at launch, based on the seminal MTV reality show and starring the original seven cast members. The Hills, Love & Hip-Hop, Behind the Music and MTV Unplugged have also landed on the streamer. But Paramount Plus promises new reality series including All Star Shore, The Challenge: War of the Worlds and international versions of The Shore.

One of the biggest draws might be for kids. 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. Its 24-hour live channels have five selections that are kiddie-themed and feature content for preschoolers up to teens. 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. 

captain picard stands against red backdrop

You'll find Star Trek: Picard among the selections in the Trek franchise on Paramount Plus.

Paramount Plus

Paramount Plus also integrated CBS Sports HQ, streaming more than 1,000 live sporting events per year, including the NFL on CBS, The Masters and the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. AFC fans should know that you need a Premium subscription to watch NFL games on Sundays through your local CBS affiliate. Check here to see if your region is covered for live broadcasts.

Due to the Comedy Central connection, you'll find a large selection of standup specials. Easily navigate to this content by clicking the "Brands" menu, where you'll also see designated tiles for BET, CBS, Smithsonian, Nickelodeon and MTV programming.

In terms of other movies, the Paramount Plus collection is… varied. You have classics like the Beverly Hills Cop 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, The Addams Family and Superstar). 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. Also, it's important to note that movies like The Godfather are now available through Showtime, but you need to have the Paramount Plus Showtime bundle to receive access to more titles. 

Coming soon: More originals, theatrical releases, revivals and spinoffs 

If you aren't a fan of any of those shows or movies (or sports), Paramount Plus may bring you in with some of its upcoming originals, including more Beavis and Butt-Head, a revival of '90s sitcom Frasier, and a long-awaited new animated Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. The service will also launch a new NCIS series, original films for SEAL Team and Teen Wolf, and another spinoff of popular Paramount series Yellowstone. (Note NBC's streaming service Peacock has the rights to the first three seasons of the show). 

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, and other titles include A Quiet Place Part III and Top Gun: Maverick.

A fighter pilot in uniform and flying gear stands in front of a helicopter.

Top Gun: Maverick will be available to stream on the app. 

Paramount

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 ($259 at Amazon) 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 brand of content where every network is listed: CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and Smithsonian Channel. 

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 other rows such as Sci-Fi TV, Sports, Horror Franchises, Comedy Shows, Nick Jr., Dramas, News and Daytime. 

If you scroll to the navigation sidebar, you'll see Search and Home, along with the ability to search through movies, TV shows, live TV, Showtime, 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 most mobile devices, gaming consoles and media players.

015-paramount-plus-launch-3-4-2021

Paramount Plus finally added a watchlist feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Let's talk 4K, downloads and parental controls

Paramount Plus supports 4K and HDR for some content if you're a Premium subscriber, which costs more. Select Roku devices support the 4K format, but Paramount Plus does not offer it for Roku version 10.5.

You can download up to 25 shows to your mobile device -- if you have a Premium account -- 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). Be sure to activate the parental controls to filter content for younger viewers. Adding a PIN will allow you to lock content based on its maturity rating, but you'll be required to enter that PIN to switch out of the kids' profile or to access restricted streams, including live channels.

Basically, this is a functional service, but there aren't a ton of bells and whistles. For example, at launch, there was no watchlist to let you bookmark shows and movies to watch later. However, the service did finally add a My List feature.

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

If you're a fan of Star Trek, reality shows, CBS mainstays or Paramount Plus originals, having a subscription is a no-brainer -- you'll get the same content plus a whole lot more. The addition of Showtime content in the app may be worth paying the bundle price if you're a fan of the network's content.

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 want to revisit old favorites, the $5-a-month ad-supported tier is toward the lower end of streaming service prices. It's also a content playground if you have children. 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, you can try out Paramount Plus with a one-week free trial.