CBS started its own streaming video service in 2014 under the name CBS All Access. When the company acquired and launched Star Trek content, like Star Trek Discovery, its streaming services’ popularity soared. And more recently, with the merger between Viacom (which owned Paramount) and CBS in 2019, CBS added thousands of hours of more content to its streaming service and changed the name to Paramount+. Is Paramount+ now a must-have streaming service? Check out our Paramount+ review below before hitting their “Free Trial” button.
What Is Paramount+?
Most of the traditional broadcast networks took the easy way out with their streaming strategies: if you have a cable subscription, you can live-stream your local station. CBS took a different approach by setting up its own over-the-top streaming service.
Paramount+ is an ad-supported subscription service for CBS’s broadcast content, live TV content, and hundreds of Paramount Pictures-branded content the company acquired through its recent acquisition of that company. The company had over 1,000 TV episodes and movies as of this time of writing but plans to boost that to over 2,500 movies, 30,000 TV show episodes, and 36 originals by the end of 2021.
If it achieves that goal, Paramount+ will have over 200,000 hours of content by the end of 2021, exceeding Netflix, Hulu, and most other competitors in the breadth of its content library.
That approach seems to have gone well since its launch in 2014. Paramount+ reached 8 million subscribers in mid-2020 as CBS All Access, which was 2 years ahead of its goal. ViacomCBS wants to have over 20 million subscribers by 2025.
What accounts for that success? People like it. CBS has aired five of the ten most popular TV shows on broadcast or cable TV. The Big Bang Theory took the top spot followed by the original NCIS. The other top performing shows included Bull, Blue Bloods, and Thursday Night Football. The service is also drawing in huge crowds with targeted original content, including Star Trek: Discovery, a Twilight Zone reboot, and Star Trek: Picard.
And thankfully, the 2021 rebrand from CBS All Access to Paramount+ was more than just window dressing. The company added tons more content and features, including live sports and live news alongside thousands of hours of additional content and new originals.
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It’s easy to write Paramount+ off as just one more OTT streaming service you don’t need. But if you’re a fan of some of the original content the service is producing and the content it owns in its CBS and Paramount Pictures catalog, it makes a very compelling case to sign up. Combined with a comparatively low-cost entry price, and you’ll find the service may be one to add to your (probably too large) library of streaming services.
That you can add Paramount+ as a channel on Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV Channels is a plus since it puts the service in a more streamlined and accessible format. You may find yourself having to use that option, however, as most of the services’ apps have very poor ratings. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with a headache-inducing amount of buffering and freezing, even with a good internet connection.
There’s a good chance you’ll love Paramount+ for its content alone. There’s also a chance you’ll find some things to strongly dislike about the service.
- Low-cost options. You can get Paramount+ for just $5.99 per month.
- Large content library. Paramount+ is on track to offer 30,000 TV show episodes and 2,500 movies by the end of 2021, which is more than many other on-demand services
- Live TV and sports. As of 2021, its live TV content was massively expanded to now include local CBS broadcasts, sports, and news
- A huge draw for original content. Obtaining the rights to Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and Paramount Pictures were huge boons for this service
- Wide app library. Considering some other services lack much device support, the Paramount+ app library is attractive
- Discount for students. It’s unusual for a streaming service to offer demographic-specific discounts, but you can get a 25% discount if you’re a student at a Title IV institution
- Too much buffering. The streaming experience through Paramount+ can be a pain with so much buffering for on-demand and live content.
- Some videos completely freeze up. This was something that should never happen and is worse than buffering.
- Too many ads. If you opt for the “limited commercials” plan at $5.99, you’ll start wondering just how they’re defining “limited”.
CBS provides two subscription tiers to its streaming service:
- $5.99/month with ads (soon to be $4.99 per month in 2021)
- $9.99/month without ads
- $99/year without ads
7-Day Free Trial
10K+ episodes on-demand
Watch CBS & CBSN live
2 Simultaneous streams
7-Day Free Trial
10K+ episodes on-demand
Watch CBS & CBSN live
2 simultaneous streams
Paramount+ Limited Commercials – For $5.99 per month, ads appear at the beginning of each on-demand TV stream and several times during the stream. This place gives you access to everything within the Paramount+ library, including live TV. (We’ll talk more about advertising later on.)
Note: CBS plans to change this subscription tier later in 2021. The plan will be switched with a $4.99/month option (yay, cheaper!) that does not come with your local CBS broadcast network (sad). Local, live CBS channels will only be available through the Commercial Free tier at that point.
Paramount+ Commercial Free – CBS removes the advertising from all but “select” on-demand TV video streams at its $9.99 per month premium level. Alternatively, you can get this plan for $99 per year, netting you a small cost savings.
Note: If you want offline viewing, you’ll need to sign up for the Commercial Free tier.
In both cases, live local streams have all of the ads from the regular over-the-air broadcast. The annual subscription gives you a $20 per year discount. The service also offers a 25% discount for students, which can be verified if you have a .edu email address from a Title IV institution.
The streaming quality through Paramount+ is often good, but also often not consistent. During peak streaming hours (e.g., when everyone else is also streaming), we’ve experienced major drops in bitrate and extended load times for on-demand videos.
Some of this is obviously going to be difficult for Paramount+ to control. However, the service does not give you any control over video quality. Giving users more control over their video quality could improve buffering issues, especially for users who are connecting in on networks with less bandwidth or stability issues. At present, the only video quality controls available are for video downloads.
Mixed Live Streaming Support
Paramount+ has a large amount of live TV, especially after the 2021 rebrand. Previously, the only live TV available was local CBS broadcasts. Those broadcasts offer a low-cost option to get CBS without cable and without having to purchase over-the-air digital antennas for your TVs.
There is some problem with live CBS streams not available in every market. The problem is that CBS only owns sixteen of the local affiliate stations. The other stations are independently owned, with their own contracts for local programming and reruns. Those contracts may have been written years ago before streaming content was a thing. The local stations have to renegotiate those contracts and get their suppliers’ approval before Paramount+ can carry the local stream.
In the meantime, subscribers in those black-out markets still get the latest episodes on-demand. They won’t get local news or weather, but the bigger issue is sports. CBS only streams sports through the local live feed. No local stream, no football.
ViacomCBS put a lot of work into making Paramount+ available on pretty much any device you want. A key method to do this is by making the service available through Amazon Prime Channels and Apple TV Channels. Both are streamlined options that provide multiple services with one interface. That said, there are numerous standalone apps available for most devices you might want to use.
You can use Paramount+ with all of the following devices:
- TV streaming media players: Apple TV (2nd gen and up), Android TV (all gens), Amazon Fire devices (all gens), Chromecast (2nd gen and up) and Roku TV, Vizio Smart TV (select models)
- Smart TVs: Amazon Fire TV (all gens), Android TV (Sony Bravia, miBox, and select models), Samsung TV (select models), and Roku (firmware 8.0 and up).
- Mobile devices and tablets: Android OS, iOS, and Windows 10 (tablets)
- Game consoles: Xbox One and PlayStation 4
- Desktop browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge are recommended (most recent versions will work)
- Smart home devices: Amazon Alexa (voice controls only), Google Home (voice controls only)
Paramount+ on Roku
The Paramount+ app is available through the Roku Channels Store. The app will work on most Roku versions, including Roku TV and Roku LT. The app has a 3.2 out of 5 stars in the Roku Channels Store.
Paramount+ on Fire TV Stick
You can download the Paramount+ app on Amazon Fire TV devices. The app has a 3.9 out of 5 stars on the Amazon Fire TV App Store. The top-rated review sums up what we’ve already said about the app: “Very effective – Highly annoying”. That said, most reviews and especially most negative reviews are over two years old. ESPN has fixed many issues with the app since then.
Paramount+ on Apple TV
The Paramount+ app is available for the Apple TV. The app will work on Apple TV 2nd Generation and above.
Paramount+ on iPhones and iPads
If you have a device running iOS 11 or higher, you can install the Paramount+ app. The app has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on iTunes, but it also has a large number of recent negative reviews. Users have been complaining about poor functionality with the app, including freezing videos and videos that don’t load properly.
Paramount+ on Android Phones and Tablets
You can use Paramount+ on devices running Android 5.0 or above. The app is available through Google Play, but it has a rather abysmal 2 out of 5 stars. Most reviews are consistent about a poor-quality streaming experience through the app.
Paramount+ is not just an on-demand streaming service. You’ll get live TV based on your zip code, as well as live TV from CBS News, CBS Sports HQ, and ET Live. For example, if you’re located in cities like Memphis, Oklahoma City, or Colorado Springs, Paramount+ would offer the live stream for its local CBS station to you through its streaming service.
However, you can easily access live TV schedules for CBS using our Flixed TV Guides. Either access the local TV guide for your city, or the national broadcast schedule for CBS. Our TV guide improves on the TV guide option you’ll find with Paramount+, which doesn’t a description of the programs you’re interested in viewing. You can also use the Flixed TV Guide on any device with a web browser.
CBS is driving subscription growth by creating original content that only subscribers can access. The network kicked things off with Big Brother Over The Top last year. This year it shifted to scripted entertainment by producing spin-offs of multiple popular series and launching original content across numerous scripted and non-scripted genres.
As note earlier, Paramount+ will give carry over 200,000 hours of on-demand content by the end of 2021, assuming the company’s launch plans proceed as intended. That includes 30,000 TV episodes and 2,500 movies.
The on-demand catalog is deep but inconsistent. You can watch more than three hundred episodes of NCIS, for example, but you can only watch seven episodes of The Big Bang Theory. In most cases, this comes down to whether CBS produced the show (so you get all the episodes) or some other company did (so you don’t).
You can watch classic TV shows like the original Hawaii Five-O, The Brady Bunch, and Cheers. Classic TV fans will notice that Cheers originally aired on NBC and The Brady Bunch was an ABC show. You’ll also be missing CBS-broadcast icons like The Honeymooners, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Bob Newhart Show. Nobody ever said TV licensing deals made sense.
As of 2021, the service also carries branded content from a large number of properties that ViacomCBS owns. The brands with available content include CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel.
This service has a lot of must-see original content, as well. It’s the only place you’ll be able to catch Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard, and the new Twilight Zone remake featuring Jordan Peele.
For the on-demand side of things, CBS takes a light approach with ads. Movies-watchers don’t see them, but subscribers at the “Limited Commercial” level will get ads during on-demand TV episodes. A sixty-second commercial leads off every stream.
More ads will run during the show. Five ninety-second ad breaks appear during each one-hour episode. Once the ads start running, you lose the ability to fast forward. CBS removes most of the ads for subscribers at the “Commercial Free” level, although they reserve the right to include promotional spots during “select” programs.
This service comes with a lot of content on-demand, but no cloud DVR option. You cannot record any shows, but most live TV episodes (including some sports) will be available after they air.
Paramount+ Offline Viewing
While there’s no DVR, Paramount+ does provide an offline viewing option. Only available to Commercial Free subscribers (the $9.99/month or $99/year subscription level), you can download and play on-demand TV show episodes and movies.
As you might expect, some other restrictions exist with offline viewing as well. These include:
- Offline viewing is only available for iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and Android tablets
- Offline viewing does not work for iOS 9.0 or below, or Android 4.4 or below
- You’re limited to 25 video downloads
- Downloaded videos expire after 30 days
- There is no download option for live TV
All told, that’s fairly restrictive, but not entirely uncommon, either.
Paramount+ Customer Support
If you’re having problems with your Paramount+ service, your starting point will be the knowledge base. Paramount+ has an extensive number of articles covering some common troubleshooting issues. The knowledge base is searchable, but also has categories you can choose from.
If you can’t find your answer there, CBS offers customers support through email, chatbot, or social media chats from Facebook or Twitter.
Unfortunately, the best way to get answers is through email. The company used to offer a very helpful live chat support (a real person!), but with Paramount+, switched that over to a chatbot-only system. Needless to say, the chatbot is absolutely horrid at answering most questions.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Paramount+ chatbot is the worst I’ve experienced. It can’t answer questions. Instead, it defaults to a limited menu of pre-selected choices that you can easily find in the knowledge base articles. And if it can’t answer your question, it simply ends the chat after telling you to send an email instead.
If you want to avoid frustration and you need chat support, just go right to the contact form.
Some subscribers using Paramount+ apps have complained about an inability to cancel. For best results, you need to use cancel through a web browser. You can cancel Paramount+ in 5 steps:
- Log in to Paramount+ s and go to “Account”
- Click on “Cancel Subscription” under the “Subscription & Billing” section
- Either select to get 1 more free month, or select “No Thanks”
- Check the “I understand…” box in the pop-up, and then select “Yes, cancel my subscription”
- Select a reason for canceling, then select “Complete Cancellation”
Paramount+ Refund Policy
Paramount+ does not offer a refund on your service. You can, however, continue to use the service for the remainder of the paid-for period. That includes those who opted for the yearlong subscription.
However, CBS does state in its refund policy that it might provide refunds in rare circumstances but doesn’t state what circumstances may necessitate that.
Paramount+ is a solid over-the-top streaming service with a respectable selection of on-demand and live content. The real issue is that this is yet another $5 to $6-per-month hit on the entertainment wallet. That is a lot of money to charge given how much of CBS’s programming you can get on other services. Additionally, given the service has poor streaming quality, it needs to do a better job making sure customers who sign up for the original content don’t feel abused in the process.