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When Charles Dickens wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", he was probably foreshadowing the golden age of streaming. On one hand, it's easier than ever before to access your favourite content. On the other, a new streaming platform seems to pop up every few months. Figuring out what to watch and how much it will cost you is a constant hassle.
Even worse, these new services all have their benefits, so how can one determine which one to pick? To quote the same visionary, "it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness". Streaming services were supposed to save us money in the long run, but getting a bunch of them can end up costing more than the cable we were so eager to ditch.
All this to say that new streaming service Paramount Plus is officially available in Australia, replacing 10 All Access. It brings with it a whole lot of content (including movies), promises to deliver flawless live sport and has a particularly competitive price point. But can it take on industry giant Netflix? Let's discuss.
Spoiler alert: Read this Tale of Two Streaming Services if you must but I'll only tell you to get both. There is no such thing as too much content. You do not need to go outside, despite what researchers might want you to believe. Staying in and watching 18 seasons of NCIS over the course of a month won't ruin your social life. I have 3 friends I see at least twice per year and I have watched everything on the Internet. I'm fine! Also, who needs to save money? The world is literally on fire. Treat yourself.
First things first, Paramount Plus is the clear winner as far as price is concerned. At $8.99 per month it's not only cheaper than Netflix, but cheaper than most of the streaming services available in Australia. Considering that the price buys you TV shows, movies, some reality TV, kids' content and sport, it's a great deal.
While Paramount Plus offers 2 plans in the US, 1 ad-supported, it only offers 1 plan in Australia, with no ads. You can stream on 3 devices at the same time. The quality is only HD from what I can tell, but I only watch on my laptop. (The Paramount Plus help section is surprisingly unhelpful in this regard.) The service comes with a 7-day free trial, so you can give it a go and see if it works for you. If you already had 10 All Access, you can use those credentials to sign in to Paramount Plus.
Meanwhile, Netflix plans in Australia start at $10.99 per month for the Basic option, which only covers streaming in SD quality on 1 device at a time. Netflix Standard, which lets you watch in HD on 2 devices simultaneously, is $15.99 per month. Finally, Netflix Premium costs $19.99 per month for 4K video quality and 4 concurrent streams.
There's no free trial, because Netflix is smug enough to believe that everyone interested in watching stuff online has already subscribed to the service at least once. That's probably a good guess. Also, the platform might limit video quality and simultaneous streams, but whichever plan you choose gives you access to the entire library of content.
Speaking of content, Netflix has a very large library with everything from movies to TV shows to reality to docos to kids' programming. Honestly, there are not enough years in 1 human life to stream everything currently on Netflix.
The platform invests heavily in original productions so it won't have to lose stuff from its library whenever a competitor decides to join the streaming wars, which happens more and more often. Top titles include Stranger Things, The Witcher, You, Shadow and Bone, BoJack Horseman and Lucifer. That's only covering TV.
The downside is that the quality of this content varies significantly. Netflix works hard to cover all tastes, which is a plus since the whole family can tune in. But it also means that, depending on what you're into, you won't want to watch everything. Sexy Beasts, for instance, is a series that we shouldn't have ever been subjected to.
Kids have their own dedicated section with titles for all ages, from preschool to tweenhood. Parents can choose from romantic comedies, action thrillers, Oscar contenders and horror flicks. On the TV front there are sitcoms and anthologies and dramas. At the time of writing, we counted 2,144 shows in the Netflix library and 4,094 movies. The giant lost a lot of licensed content in recent years, but it makes up for that by doubling up on original titles.
If you're into live sport, that's where Netflix doesn't deliver. Paramount Plus, instead, made live sport a big selling point, basically becoming the go-to destination for domestic football. The new platform will stream A-League and W-league games, as well as some matches of Australia's national teams. I don't watch sport but even I know that's a big deal.
It's unclear what the coverage will look like, as more details should be released in the coming weeks. Paramount Plus also offers a live stream of CBSN if you're not the kind of person who gets their news the regular way, by doomscrolling Twitter.
As for TV shows, from what I can tell the service has everything 10 All Access used to, so there are a lot of crime procedurals you can watch to unwind. Blue Bloods, NCIS, The Good Wife, Elementary, Bull, SEAL Team, Hawaii Five-O – they're all there. Same for Network Ten content. You can stream Survivor, MasterChef and The Bachelor.
The platform is set to become the exclusive home of Showtime content in Australia, which means you'll be able to watch the Dexter revival exclusively on Paramount Plus in November. Right now, you can watch the original Dexter and other popular series like Ray Donovan, The Affair, Penny Dreadful and Californication.
Besides Showtime, Paramount Plus is offering content from Comedy Central, MTV, Smithsonian, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. The latter means plenty of kids' stuff – think Spongebob SquarePants, Sam & Cat, Rugrats, Monsters vs. Aliens and so on.
On top of that, Paramount Plus is bringing new and exclusive content, most notably sitcom Everyone Is Doing Great, comedy thriller Two Weeks to Live, the iCarly revival and historical drama Anne Boleyn. The second season of Aussie series Five Bedrooms is now streaming on the service, along with season 2 of edgy period dramedy Why Women Kill.
More exciting originals will come in the future. Paramount Plus has already announced its first original Australian-commissioned drama series, Spreadsheet. It will follow a divorced mother, played by Katherine Parkinson, who is looking for sex without commitment. We'll get to see a series about the making of The Godfather titled The Offer as well.
As for movies, Paramount Plus is streaming Infinite, a 2021 sci-fi thriller starring Mark Wahlberg as a man with the ability to remember his previous lives. The rest of the library includes a lot of older but solid titles to choose from – Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, The Godfather, Clueless, Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Pulp Fiction and more.
Bottom line: the Paramount Plus library is more modest than Netflix's, but there's plenty there to catch your eye. If you love crime procedurals like Blue Bloods, Netflix doesn't really have a lot of those, so you'll get your fill if you climb the Paramount Plus mountain of entertainment. The same applies for live football.
While assessing a streaming service I am a person very interested in content quality and less interested in basically anything else. However, Paramount Plus is getting the short stick when it comes to streaming experience, especially when compared to Netflix.
Netflix works on basically any device under the sun, from smartphones to streaming devices to gaming consoles to smart TVs. Paramount Plus is available via web and Android/iOS phones and tablets, plus Apple TV, Android TV/Google TV, Fire TV devices, Roku and Chromecast. It's also compatible with Fetch and Telstra TV, but no game consoles or fancy smart TVs.
On the same note, Netflix comes with a lot of features meant to make streaming as seamless and accessible as possible. The Skip Intro button. Audio descriptions. You can even watch a show or movie at double speed if you want the creators to stone you to death if they ever find out. It has multiple profiles and interactive movies.
Paramount Plus doesn't even allow you to add titles to a watchlist yet. If you start watching something it will show up in a Keep Watching section on the homepage, but you can't save to a list for later. You can hit Play on everything you want to watch and then exit and find them later in the Keep Watching section, but it's not the same.
This is Paramount+
Streaming now in Australia! pic.twitter.com/cMlRqcPqao
— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) August 10, 2021
Oh, and if you click on a movie, it starts playing the movie? It doesn't open in a pop-up or a new page or something telling you about the movie so you can decide if you're actually interested. I guess that's fine if you suffer from decision paralysis but you don't get more info about the cast or such. When you watch a show, you can't skip to the next episode from the video player. There are closed captions for a lot of the content (not all), always a nice addition.
Paramount Plus enables you to stream on 3 devices simultaneously, but it doesn't seem to offer the option to create multiple profiles, at least not yet. I was about to investigate further but then I got distracted watching the pilot episode of Madam Secretary for the fourth time. That show was always too pure for this world. Multiple profiles are available on the US version of the service, so the feature will likely become available in Australia as well, eventually. The app supports offline viewing, so you can download content on your mobile device.
Of course, this is where I insert a big disclaimer. I tested Paramount Plus on my laptop, on launch day. There is a good chance that any kinks will smooth out as time goes by. New features will be added. Device compatibility will improve. I had no problems streaming any of the content and the live news stream worked perfectly. At the end of the day, that's what really matters.
You were probably expecting a more eloquent conclusion, but it ultimately comes down to what you like to watch. I don't know your life. If you want a massive amount of choice and care about stuff like the Skip Intro button and want to stream content using your PS4, get Netflix. If you don't mind a more basic streaming experience and love NCIS, get Paramount Plus.
The service is in the early stages, so expect the library to grow over the next few months – especially once the platform adds live sport into the mix. For now, I highly recommend you take advantage of the 7-day free trial and give the service a spin, if only to experience the Madam Secretary pilot for yourself. Or, for more current content, to stream the Maisie Williams show Two Weeks to Live, which is dark and compelling and very funny.
Also, remember what I said in the very beginning? Get them both. Life is short. Live a little.
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