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Meghan and Harry Oprah interview isn’t on Paramount Plus — and people are pissed

Meghan and Harry Oprah interview isn’t on Paramount Plus — and people are pissed
(Image credit: CBS)

Meghan and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday night dropped numerous bombshells about their split from the royal family. The CBS News special was a smash hit, pulling in 17.1 million viewers — more than double that of last week's Golden Globes Awards — and generating a ton of chatter on Twitter. 

And the Meghan and Harry interview also represented a tantalizing draw for Paramount Plus, the brand-new streaming service from ViacomCBS, which carried the interview through live local affiliate feeds. But the key word there is "live," because as soon as the special finished airing on CBS, it disappeared from Paramount Plus. 

I'm baffled by this mountain-sized missed opportunity — one that highlights the lackluster launch that we call out in our Paramount Plus review.

Judging by Twitter, a lot of people signed up for a Paramount Plus free trial to watch the interview. Many didn't realize they could only watch it live, when it aired from 8 to 10 p.m. ET, and that it wouldn't be available on demand. Those disappointed users soon discovered the interview was nowhere to be found on Paramount Plus. Searching for "Oprah" or "Meghan" yielded no results.

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Instead, anyone who wanted to watch the Meghan and Harry interview on-demand online hours later or the next day could go to CBS.com, where it's streaming completely free (with ads).

I find it seriously strange that CBS would have such a valuable asset and not use it to bolster its streaming service launch. It's like if Disney Plus launched with one episode of The Mandalorian and removed it after a few hours.

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Apparently, there are rights issues at work in the deal that the network struck with Winfrey's Harpo Productions. According to The Wall Street Journal, CBS paid between $7 million and $9 million to license the special. (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were not paid for their appearance.) And advertisers paid a premium rate to air commercials during the broadcast. Variety reported that Harpo retained the streaming rights to the special. Perhaps the company plans to sell those elsewhere, like Netflix (where Harry and Meghan have a production deal).

Paramount Plus can celebrate a tiny bit, since the promise of live-streaming the interview likely drove quite a few sign-ups. But that number could've been a lot bigger. Not everyone can watch an event live; Harry and Megan were still trending on social media all morning. If only Paramount Plus could've taken advantage of that.

Even if Paramount Plus couldn't get the streaming rights to the Meghan and Harry interview, it had time to prepare something for the inevitable wave of curious subscribers. 

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Commission a quickie hour-long documentary about the couple or even license one of the terrible Harry and Meghan made-for-TV movies. Just have something to get those free trial users interested in possibly staying. I don't think NCIS, Criminal Minds and Frasier are going to do the trick.

The interview isn't the only thing that's strangely absent from Paramount Plus. This weekend saw the premiere of Coming 2 America on Amazon Prime Video. The sequel to Eddie Murphy's classic comedy was produced by Paramount and sold to Amazon, after its initial August theatrical release date was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps, at the time, ViacomCBS just wanted Amazon's big bucks to recoup the cost of making the movie and Paramount Plus was still just a glimmer in an executive's eye.

But these head-scratching gaps show a lack of forethought that's apparent in the streamer's debut last week. Paramount Plus rose from the ashes of CBS All Access with no blockbuster originals or franchise draws. They've announced a lot of projects, but the big titles on launch day were a SpongeBob SquarePants movie and a Real World revival.

With so many streaming services in play now, a newcomer has to seize every chance it has to stand out. And Paramount Plus just whiffed.

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.