Paramount Plus review: Boldly going where SVOD has gone before?
Is Paramount Plus any good?
Paramount Plus offers a solid catalogue of legacy content and a handful of cool new originals for a reasonable price. It's an attractive option, especially for families with young kids and reality TV lovers. And the roadmap for future content looks great! However, it's not quite up to 2021 standards. With no 4K, Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos, and limited format compatibility, it feels behind the times. While the cookie-cutter interface and lack of profiles fails to inspire.
Pros and cons of Paramount Plus
- Full series of popular legacy shows
- Performs well on all tested devices
- Original Australian productions
- Future home of Australian soccer
- Relatively cheap
- 7-day free trial
- Interface sticks to old formulas
- Outdated audio and video quality
- Lack of profiles bewildering
- Discoverability algorithm lost in transit
- Very reliant on legacy content at launch
- Leans on reality TV and kids shows
10 All Access has evolved into the new streaming service Paramount Plus, but can it offer enough content to stand out?
To say there has been a dramatic pivot in the way we consume TV over the last few years would be an understatement. It's all gone online; it's all gone streaming video on-demand (SVOD). And it feels like Paramount Plus is the last service to turn up to the party.
Where once there was just Stan, Foxtel Now, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video fighting for your attention, there's now a crowded and fractured market. Disney+ has been the biggest new arrival, but Binge, Apple TV+, Optus Sport, BritBox, Kayo Sports and many more offer a plethora of compelling options. And just when you thought there was no further way to divvy up the content, up steps Paramount Plus.
To be fair, Paramount Plus isn't as new as it may seem. It's the evolution of the dying 10 All Access app, with ViacomCBS rebranding the service and giving it a massive shot in the arm with exclusive new content. But with many Australians already signed up to multiple services, does it do enough to warrant your dollar?
A familiar feel
ViacomCBS hasn't sought to reinvent the wheel with Paramount Plus. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the company has simply gone over to Disney and done the old copy-paste. There's a striking resemblance to the Mouse House's interface in Paramount Plus, most notably in the board categorisation of its content into brand pillars.
However, in order to one-up its competitor, Paramount Plus has 7 pillars, not 6:
- Paramount Plus
- Comedy Central
- Nick Jr.
- Smithsonian Channel
The Paramount Plus pillar is where you will find the originals being made for the service. This is arguably the most important destination as the app finds its feet. Across the other channels you'll find legacy content either siphoned across from 10 All Access or pulled from rival services back under the Paramount brand.
Weirdly, the Smithsonian Channel doesn't make the cut on the front page and has to be found via scrolling. Which probably hurt its feelings. And the MTV channel features tons of reality TV content, but no music. Is that me showing my age?
Surprisingly, there is a live news channel that you can't jump onto, but given that it's CBS News and US centric, it's perhaps not as useful as it sounds. It certainly won't come close to FLASH when it's launched by Foxtel later this year.
Finding content is, in general, a little clunky. The categorisation of content within each pillar isn't the most user-friendly. There's either a run of small-print genres lined up along the top for you to filter by, or there isn't. There's no consistency there.
It doesn't feel like you're surfing through tsunamis of content at launch, but as more shows arrive, this lacklustre navigation will become problematic. Not to mention that categories like "top-rated" are given no context. Top rated by who, exactly? At least the search feature works well.
It's fair to say the cookie cutter interface for Paramount Plus is a bit of a let-down. There's nothing wrong with it, but by following in the footsteps of others so closely, there's no wow moment when you turn it on. You could be on any service.
When I compare that to Binge, for example, which does a great job of innovating the interface with its series' landing pages, IMDB integration, picture-in-picture mode, solid write-ups for shows and ease of navigation and discovery, you have to wonder what could have been if Paramount Plus dared to be different.
It is worth noting the subtitles toggle. This seems to be on most of the shows and movies, at least everything I've come across. It's customisable, allowing you to change the size and type of font, and how it's presented. This is a neat addition for those who are hearing or vision impaired. Although currently English seems to be the only option.
Parental controls allow you to block certain content from being viewed by minors. However, frustratingly, there is no way to set up multiple profiles. This is way behind the times and a pain in the butt for families. Especially as there is a lot of content here for kids that you don't want spamming your "continue watching" feed.
The restriction to only 3 simultaneous streams may also hurt larger families.
Speaking of content on P+
The series, brands and movies that sit under the ViacomCBS umbrella, and are either already in P+ or coming, is very solid. On top of the aforementioned studios that have their own pillars within the app, you also have CBS itself, BET, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures Television. In addition, Channel 10 is creating new original content right here in Australia for the service.
ViacomCBS is claiming that there will be 20,000 episodes and movies to watch by the end of the year, but as you surf through the various channels, it doesn't feel like there is such a wealth of content available. A huge chunk of that number can be found in MTV's reality TV programming I suspect, and in the kids channels, which is fine if that's what you're after.
It's all predominantly legacy content too. Indeed, at launch, only 24 shows sit in the Paramount Plus channel (which is for originals and exclusives), only one of which is a movie. And it's a Marky Mark (of Funky Bunch fame) movie at that. There are some exciting new shows to get into, including Aussie drama Five Bedrooms, but if you're new to the streaming app marketplace and wondering which service to choose, you'll find plenty more "new" content on the likes of Binge, Stan, Amazon Prime and even Apple TV+.
It's a harsh view to take; as a launch catalogue goes, it stands toe-to-toe with the other services that have launched in the last few years. But now those services have built on their initial foundations, which allows them to punch a little harder than Paramount Plus circa mid-2021.
Plenty of classic shows
As for the legacy content, well there are plenty of hits. And one of the things I do like about the service is that it's whole series you can dive into, not a handful of seasons. We've got the full list of TV shows available elsewhere, but standouts include every US Survivor episode from all 40 seasons, all of South Park, NCIS, Dexter, Deadwood, Ray Donovan, Californication, Numb3rs, Hawaii Five-O, Oz and even the original 90210.
There's a good mix of documentaries, comedy shows (think Jim Jefferies, Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Crank Yankers, Tosh.O, Stephen Colbert) and a heap of kids programming. All the Nickelodeon goodness your ankle-biters could want. Lovers of reality TV will be ecstatic over the line-up too. Catfish, 16 & Pregnant, Survivor, Teen Mom, Geordie Shore, The Hills, Pimp My Ride, Punk'd and Jersey Shore to name just a few.
Paramount Plus definitely feels like it's more focused on TV than it is on movies. However, there are around 300 movies at launch in Australia and while they're almost all legacy, there are plenty of gems in here for cinephiles. There's all of the Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Anchorman and the Transformer films. The first 4 Mission Impossible movies. The Indiana Jones series. A number of DC films as well, like a random selection of Batman films and Wonder Woman. You can read the full list at your leisure.
As we saw with the arrival of Disney+, the Paramount Plus content doesn't just make its own app experience better, it actively makes the competition worse. Stan and Foxtel (and to a lesser extent Binge) have been the hardest hit, as well as Amazon Prime somewhat. If there's some legacy content you simply can't do without that is now on Paramount Plus, then switching across is an easy decision to make.
Future of Paramount Plus content
The good news is that there is plenty more to come. On the local front, Australian made productions Spreadsheet, Last King of The Cross and 6 Festivals are on the way.
A new Sport channel will open too, which will be the only place in Australia to see all the A-League and W-League games from the 2021/22 season onwards. Friendlies with the Socceroos and Matildas, the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the FFA Cup and the AFC Champions League are also going to end up broadcast live and on-demand through Paramount Plus.
There's no shortage of big movies on Paramount's release schedule. Jackass Forever, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Mission: Impossible 7, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Babylon, Dungeons and Dragons and Top Gun: Maverick, for example. A massive South Park deal involving 14 movies and 5 more seasons is also on the cards.
On the TV front, the upcoming Halo series will be a juggernaut for the service. Y: 1883, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Criminal Minds, Frasier (new episodes) and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy are already creating a buzz. In short, there's a huge investment going into the Paramount Plus service and I have no reason to think it won't continue to grow in exciting ways moving forward.
You shouldn't expect too much during the launch window of a new streaming app. We've seen some shocking launches in the past where things have been a stuttering mess stripped of features. Yet, Paramount Plus has been working perfectly for me during my initial tests. (I will update this text if I come across any problems.)
I've been predominantly watching through my browser and on an iPad Pro. However, I have also tested it on an iPhone, Google Pixel 4 (Android phone) and an Apple TV 4K box. Of them all, the Android seemed to be the most troubled. I got one error message (which corrected itself shortly after) and it seemed a lot slower to navigate the interface.
However, they all more-or-less work as advertised. Some of the poster/cover art is also low-res, making the whole interface look cheap and uninviting. The Android and iOS iterations are strangely missing the "recommended for you" section under each show or movie, and the landing pages feel sparse of detail.
The algorithm is next-to-useless anyway. The "recommended for you" seems to in no way reflect what you're actually looking at or have previously watched. In fact, it seems to be the same shows listed every time regardless of what landing page you're looking at. This further amplifies the feeling that there isn't as much content as advertised.
For example, when I landed on Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, it failed to list any of the other Transformers movies. So, when I did a Transformers search, I found 4 films, but then it recommended the completely off-topic NCIS, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and iCarly as alternatives.
My biggest grief with the performance of Paramount Plus has to be the lack of 4K, Dolby Vision or HDR 10. You absolutely do notice their absence. Meanwhile Dolby Atmos isn't supported either. This simply isn't up to 2021 standards. Elsewhere you can download episodes of TV shows in the mobile version of Paramount+ for offline use, but not movies. You cannot, however, download movies or TV shows on the browser or TV versions.
I also think the app should appear natively on Smart TVs and video game consoles, but perhaps that extra format support will come in the near future. Indeed, shortly after launch the service arrived on recent model Sony Bravia TVs, so that's a promising start.
Is the pricing fair?
To a certain extent, a lot of my concerns with Paramount Plus are accounted for in its price. At $8.99 a month or $89.99 a year it comes in under Stan, Disney+, Binge and Netflix by a fair bit. Unlike the USA, Australians don't have the option for a cheaper subscription with ads, nor do we get a premium plan with 4K, Dolby Vision and HDR. And our price sits in the middle of these 2 overseas extremes as a result.
I suspect this price will be introductory, and like Disney+, it will increase in the future as more content, in particular sport, is added to the service. As well as features like 4K. But for its current content library and launch window wobbles, the price is reasonable.
As someone who writes about and reviews entertainment experiences every day, I can feel the app fatigue in Australian consumers. Nobody really wants to have existing content divvied up once again into yet another streaming TV app. Looking at Paramount Plus through that lens, it's easy to feel negatively about the product.
Yes, it's true, most of this content you could have seen in 2020 at no extra cost if you had Stan or Foxtel. Now you must pay more to access it. That's frustrating.
Yet Paramount Plus does offer a catalogue of content that's starting off from a solid base and has a clear roadmap in front of it that will see it expand in exciting ways. It's great that this roadmap includes a lot of original content and that some of it is Australian made. It's one of the cheaper options on the market too, a fact that can't be ignored.
While the restrictive formats, rote interface, wayward algorithm and lack of both 4K and Dolby Atmos are impossible to ignore, they also don't ultimately impact the volume of quality content. If some of your favourite shows have now fallen under the Paramount Plus umbrella, especially if you have kids who love Nickelodeon, then you'll get your money's worth. Every episode delivered to a device near you, performing as advertised.
Thankfully, you can try Paramount Plus out for yourself using this 7-day free trial.
There are well over a dozen SVOD services now available in Australia. Make sure you compare Paramount Plus with its competitors if you're not convinced it's the right service for you.