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I want to watch Yellowstone without cable — so why does it take three streaming services?

How to watch Yellowstone season 3 online
(Image credit: Paramount)

Yellowstone returns this weekend for its long-awaited fourth season — long-awaited by a very fervent fanbase. I've vaguely been aware of Yellowstone's existence since it debuted on the Paramount Network in 2018, and I knew of it mostly as a vehicle for Kevin Costner. I thought, "Oh, here's yet another movie star turning into a TV star in some vanity project." 

That "vanity project" has become one of the most popular shows on cable. The season 3 finale drew 5.3 million viewers, making it the most watched cable telecast of 2020. And yet, hardly anyone talks about Yellowstone. I've never heard anyone in real life claim to be a fan and it doesn't generate much chatter on Twitter. Contrast that to Succession ( which has an eerily similar premise). Succession season 3 premiered to 1.4 million viewers, but every episode launches a million memes.

Yellowstone is so popular that it is generating two spinoffs on Paramount Plus. One of them, a prequel titled 1883, stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Curious about this television juggernaut, I decided to finally check it out.

But to fully experience the Yellowstone Cinematic Universe, I need to subscribe to three separate streaming services. That's aggravating. And for many people with limited streaming budgets, simply not doable. As John Dutton once said, "The whole world's a test."

Where can I watch Yellowstone? It depends

PeacockParamount PlusSling/Fubo/live TV services
Yellowstone seasons 1-3YesNoNo
Yellowstone season 4NoNoYes
Yellowstone spinoffsNoYesNo

As a Yellowstone newbie, I should start with the first three seasons. They are available right now, exclusively, on Peacock

However, you can only watch the very first episode of season 1 for free. The rest of season 1 and all of seasons 2 and 3 require Peacock Premium ($4.99 per month with ads) or Peacock Premium Plus ($9.99 per month with no ads). 

OK fine, I have a Peacock Premium subscription. Let's say I catch up and am ready to watch season 4. Will that be on Peacock, too?

Nope! Peacock says that it will eventually offer season 4 after it concludes airing on the Paramount Network — so, sometime in 2022. 

Kevin Costner stands by a horse on Yellowstone

(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Anyone who wants to watch season 4 will have to watch it on Paramount Network — if they have cable. Cord-cutters like myself need a second streaming service, one of the best cable TV alternatives, to find out if various Dutton family members live or die. 

I use Sling and have the Orange+Blue combo plan, but Paramount Network isn't one of its 51 channels. I actually need to add-on the Comedy Extra package for $6 a month to get it (along with MTV, TV Land, CMT, Tru TV and others).

You can also get Paramount Network through Philo, FuboTVYouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV, and DirecTV Stream.

If you're a die-hard Yellowstone fan, you are probably excited about the two upcoming spinoffs. The first, premiering in December, is 1883 starring Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Sam Elliott. It tells the story of the Dutton family first settling on the land that becomes the ranch. The cast looks so terrific that it's what made me interested in catching up on Yellowstone in the first place.

The other spinoff is 6666, set on the Four Sixes Ranch in western Texas. And both shows are Paramount Plus originals, which means I'll need a third streaming service to partake of the entire Yellowstone Cinematic Universe.

Franchise splitting is streaming's biggest problem

Yellowstone isn't the only property that is split up among streaming services. One of the more absurd situations might be South Park. Right now, 24 seasons of the series (well, bar a few episodes here and there) are streaming exclusively on HBO Max

Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone recently signed a new South Park deal that extends the show through its 30th season in 2027. New episodes will air on Comedy Central — which again means you need cable or a subscription to a live TV streaming service. 

The other part of that deal is that they are making 14 movies for Paramount Plus. So, South Park fans will also need three separate streaming services to have access to the entire franchise.

(And if you want to be completist, the 1999 South Park movie is streaming on Pluto TV, which is free at least. But once it moves off Pluto, who knows where it'll land?)

Cartman wearing a mask on South Park vaccine special

(Image credit: South Park Studios/Comedy Central)

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy — and I write about the streaming industry for a living. It must be extra confusing and annoying for everyone else. 

Yeah, I get that these streaming deals are complicated and involve a lot of corporate politicking. And at the end of the day, companies want to squeeze the most dollars out of selling rights to their IP. HBO Max outbid Paramount Plus' predecessor CBS All Access for South Park's catalog rights.

Whoever can "show me the money" wins, but it comes at the expense of consumers.

Kelly Woo

Kelly is a senior writer covering streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.