CBS All Access Is Now Paramount+
The general public thinks of them as streaming video services. Or subscription-based video-on-demand. Industry insiders know them as over-the-top media services. Basically, with the continued, withering demise of traditional, over-the-air broadcast television, it’s the way most people view their entertainment choices—by subscribing to a proprietary service that provides access to a variety of channels or a catalogue of movies/TV shows directly to consumers via the internet, and streamed to whatever device they may choose (TV, phone, computer, iPad, etc.). Netflix, Apple TV+, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, Quibi, Hulu, HBO Max and Crackle represent just a tip-of-the-iceberg sampling of the ways in which we now “watch TV.” Keeping track of these various services, and the content they provide (or don’t provide) is made even more complicated by the vagaries of the corporate world.
As companies buy other companies, get absorbed into other companies, license their product to companies they do not own and generally engage in the capitalist version of incest, it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out what service has what. Take, for example, the wildly popular ’90s sitcom “Friends.” It was aired on NBC back in the day, so you’d think you could watch it on NBC’s new streaming service Peacock. But no. NBC is owned by the mass media conglomerate NBCUniversal (as in Universal Pictures). But the show was actually produced by rival studio Warner Bros. (whose parent company, Time Warner, got bought out by U.S. telecom company AT&T in 2018). In 2014 WB sold the rights to “Friends” to Netflix for around $120 million—which is why the sitcom has been streaming there exclusively for the last few years. But wait. Pay television network HBO is also owned by Time Warner. In 2015 HBO launched its subscription streaming service, HBO Now. But Warner, hoping to launch its own streaming channel, decided to just take over the service last year, rebrand it as HBO Max and use it as the catch-all streaming service for its various media properties (Warner Bros., DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, Studio Ghibli and a bunch of others). Which is why the NBC show “Friends” is now exclusively available on HBO. Make sense? I didn’t think so.
Now let’s take a look at CBS All Access, venerable broadcast network CBS’ foray into subscription streaming. Launched in 2014 the service offered lots of old CBS reruns (all the “Star Trek,” “Magnum P.I.” and “Murder She Wrote” you can watch) for a mere $5.99 a month ($9.99 without ads). Over the past few years, CBS All Access has added a handful of original shows, including “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Good Fight,” “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek: Picard,” making it a mildly interesting but hardly essential content provider. That’s about to change, though.
In November of 2019, the CBS Corporation merged with mass media conglomerate Viacom. (Actually, it re-merged. I told you this was incestuous.) Suddenly, CBS was part of an entertainment giant that included MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Smithsonian and Paramount Pictures. Like Warner Bros., Paramount wanted to launch its own streaming service. And like Warner Bros., it decided to take over one that was already in the family. In September Viacom was announced that, starting early next year, CBS All Access would transform into Paramount+.
So what does this mean for current and potentially future Paramount+ subscribers? Well, you will get access to some Paramount movies (including a couple original SpongeBob SquarePants features set to debut on the channel in 2021). Unfortunately, Paramount has already licensed a chunk of its back catalogue to … (wait for it) NBCUniversal for airing on Peacock. At the same time, HBO Max purchased the rights to a lot of Comedy Central classics such as “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Reno 911.” So, like Warner Bros. waiting to regain the rights to “Friends,” Paramount will have to wait a while to air certain key Paramount properties on Paramount+. In the meantime subscribers will get a few more “original” shows to add to the lineup of Star Trek stuff: a docu-reality spin-off of “Criminal Minds” titled “The Real Criminal Minds,” a reboot of “MTV’s Behind the Music—The Top 40,” a revival of the BET sitcom “The Game,” a spy drama called “Lioness” from Taylor Sheridan (“Sons of Anarchy”) and a drama based on producer Al Ruddy’s experiences making The Godfather. Stream on, CBS/Viacom/Paramount All Access+. And fingers crossed you don’t get caught in another corporate merger between now and January. [ ]