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Paramount Plus review (hands on): Is it worth $5.99 a month?

Paramount Plus is a service without a big hit

Paramount Plus review
(Image: © Paramount Plus/Shutterstock)

Our Verdict

Paramount Plus, as it stands now, will primarily appeal to specific groups of people, and not a wide audience.

For

  • Available everywhere
  • Classic Nickelodeon shows
  • Relatively affordable
  • Includes live TV

Against

  • No must-see originals yet
  • Gaps in TV and movie libraries

Paramount Plus is here to replace CBS All Access, but what has changed? For starters, it inherits plenty of content from other brands owned by parent company ViacomCBS. Those include Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and BET. But at this early stage there's plenty of annoying gaps. 

Paramount Plus also includes a decent selection of movies, including franchises like Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones. But there's gaps there, too. Other content includes sports (NFL, soccer, and March Madness), news and a smattering of originals. 

Paramount Plus, as it stands now, will primarily appeal to specific groups of people. The most easily identifiable crowds are adults who grew up with shows like SpongeBob Squarepants, Trekkies who want to watch all the Star Trek TV episodes they can or simply the folks who say they don’t have enough to watch.

As you’ll see in my Paramount Plus early review, it deserves kudos for its interface, live TV access and affordable price, but it has a long way to go before it makes our best streaming service list.

Paramount Plus review: Price and availability

Paramount Plus will eventually have a $4.99 per month tier, but it's starting with the same $5.99 per month plan that CBS All Access had. This package has ads, unlike the $9.99 per month ad-free package (which will not edit ads out of live broadcasts). Live NFL games will be included. Check out the Paramount Plus website to sign up.

That entry-level price isn't expensive, and it's the same price as the ad-supported Hulu. But Hulu's exclusives library is better than Paramount Plus'. Disney Plus may be more expensive than either, but (again) its vault and originals make a strong case for that amount of programming. 

Paramount Plus review: Home screen

(Image credit: Paramount Plus/Tom's Guide)

Paramount Plus is most comparable to the $4.99 per month Apple TV Plus, but that doesn't have any ads (though it doesn't have live TV either).

Paramount Plus is available in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, after its March 4 launch. Nordic countries get the service on March 25, and Australia will follow later in the year. 

If you're looking to sign up, get the best Paramount Plus free trial, (and not the normal 7-day trial), by using the code 'MOUNTAIN' when signing up for a whole free month of the service. Look for the "Have a coupon code?" prompt at sign-up.

Paramount Plus review: Devices

One of the biggest wins for Paramount Plus is its ubiquity, which is admittedly owed in part to the CBS All Access app giving it a foothold in every device. Not since Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus has a big service launched (is this a re-launch?) on Roku and Fire TV, as HBO Max and Peacock both had gaps in their initial device support. 

You can also watch the service in a web browser, and here is the full list of devices that have Paramount Plus support or Paramount Plus apps:

The PlayStation 5 is notable by its absence, but it's not a huge deal yet since it's very hard to get.

Paramount Plus review: Performance and quality

Paramount Plus proved snappy during my testing on the web, on an iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Chromecast with Google TV. Shows started moments after I hit Play, and menu navigation proved speedy.

Most of the content I've watched on Paramount Plus played in 1080p, though older Nickelodeon cartoons were made before HD, so they're not as crisp. Paramount Plus does offer some 4K HDR content, such as The Stand. Watching one of that Stephen King adaptation, I noticed it took a few seconds before the quality snapped to 4K, but it stayed strong and crisp, without a hard-wired Ethernet connection. 

Paramount Plus review: Design and interface

Paramount Plus nails the landing on the interface, and well it should — they had CBS All Access for practice. Its home page begins with the standard big banner of promoted content that carousels around. Then, you get category buttons for its branded silos (CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Smithsonian Channel), each light up with animation when you select them.

Then, you get a queue of previously viewed content — which you can edit, but only when viewing in a web browser. As we've said, this should be a standard feature in all streaming apps, but it is not. 

Paramount Plus review: home screen

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Since we're in the very early days of using Paramount Plus, we won't penalize its recommendations row for being out of wack. I just don't know what I did to signal to this service that I care about 60 Minutes or Happy Days. Then, there are rows by genre (comedies, dramas, news, reality TV, and so on).

Navigating the stacks of rows of shows and movies in Paramount Plus is pretty easy. There are filters that let you see all of the shows, or the movies in A-Z, and then genre filters as well. My only gripe here is that the movies section is filled with standup comedy specials, which do not belong. They fit more into TV, under comedy. Netflix also categorizes them as movies, but it does a better job of separating them out. 

Paramount Plus review: down further in the home screen

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Lastly, sections for Live TV and News may be placed too low, depending on your preference. These are unique features for Paramount Plus, and it may want to highlight them more to show how they stand out.

Paramount Plus review: Shows and movies

Paramount Plus' vault of shows and movies differs from those of CBS All Access by bringing in titles from other networks under parent company ViacomCBS. That means you get some of the big Comedy Central hits, such as Chappelle's Show, and its modern run shows such as Detroiters, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and the under-seen Review. 

Under the BET tag on the homepage you'll see shows such as Sister Sister, Everybody Hates Chris and Moesha. And when you click the Smithsonian Channel section button, you get to learn about everything from the ancient Egyptians to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

Paramount Plus review: Comedy Central

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Other solid TV programming includes a ton of Star Trek. That includes The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. You also get Star Trek: The Animated Series, and the CBS All Access shows Picard, Discovery, Lower Decks and Short Treks.

As for the movies, you've got the whole Godfather trilogy, all four Indiana Jones movies, Chinatown and a bunch of modern classics such as Zodiac, Minority Report, Jackie Brown and Election. 

But plenty of shows and movies are missing. How is this a Comedy Central lineup without South Park (which is at HBO Max) or Broad City (currently living at Hulu)? Similarly, getting MTV shows without Jackass (which isn't streaming anywhere) and Nickelodeon programming without Pete & Pete? Also, not all shows are completely here. Yes, you can watch all of Survivor, but seasons 5 through 11 of The Real World are in absentia.

Paramount Plus review: MTV

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

There are likely licensing reasons for all of these gaps, but they'll probably disappoint more than a few streamers. A similar story is seen in the movies section, where you only get Star Trek IV, VII, VIII and X, leaving many potholes in the galaxy. Similarly, you get Mission: Impossible 1, 2 and 3 (remember to skip 2, trust me), but the excellent back-half of the series is missing, so you need to buy or rent the rest to see the excellent fight scenes between Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill in Mission: Impossible Fallout (don't skip Ghost Protocol or Rogue Nation).

Eventually, I bet those gaps will be filled in. As 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy once said, "You can't fight synergy, Lemon. It's bigger than all of us." Check out our best Paramount Plus shows and movies list for our complete set of recommendations. 

Paramount Plus review: Originals and exclusives

Paramount Plus promotes its launch-lineup as having more than 30,000 TV episodes and 2,500 movies, but those numbers are not enough. The big story is that Paramount Plus has launched without a new must-see exclusive original.

Look at the list of Paramount Plus originals and you may find something you like. Highlights include The Real World Homecoming New York and a six-episode SpongeBob series called Kamp Koral. Neither seems like tentpole programming that will support a whole network. There are also many shows that were on CBS All Access, such as Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, The Stand and The Good Fight. 

Paramount Plus review: Originals and exclusives

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Why am I harping on this? Let's look back at the services that launched since winter 2019, when Disney Plus arrived with its own Mandalorian (and secret Baby Yoda). HBO Max got all the big movies, starting with Wonder Woman. And then things get sketchy outside of those two. Peacock has ... well, it was supposed to have the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Its big show instead turned out to be the Saved By The Bell revival. And Apple TV Plus? Well, it has the critically-acclaimed Ted Lasso (which we love), but even that show hasn't taken off big-time yet. Apple practically decided to stop trying to get people to pay for its streaming service.

The longer a streaming service goes without its big exclusive draw, of which Disney Plus has had multiple after 1.5 years, the more likely it's seen as irrelevant. Just look at Quibi and the complete lack of must-see TV it had. Paramount Plus probably won't hit that rock bottom, but it doesn't have important new programming out of the gate, unless you're a big SpongeBob or Real World fan.

Paramount Plus review: Live TV, sports and news

Paramount Plus, unlike most streaming services (save Peacock) has live TV inside of its offering. That includes local CBS channels (I saw New York's CBS2 in my testing), CBSN (the news network), CBS Sports HQ and ET Live.

There will also be sports, including select NFL games later this year. Right now, the UEFA Champions League soccer matches are the only sports here, which is cool for some and means nothing to others.

Paramount Plus review: News content

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

You can also get CBS' news programming, including individual stories of the day, and shows such as 60 Minutes and CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell.

Paramount Plus review: Outlook

Right now, Paramount Plus isn’t that much different from the service it once was. I guess CBS All Access Plus doesn’t roll off the tongue. And that's not good news, as ViacomCBS didn't invest all this work and money just to get something similar to what it had already.

But eventually, it will grow a library of exclusives that demand more attention. Big name movies, such as Mission: Impossible 7 and A Quiet Place Part II, will arrive 45 days after their theatrical run. Also, revivals of Frasier and iCarly are arriving to appeal to very different audiences.

Paramount Plus review: Who is this for?

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Today, though, today Paramount Plus is here to offer the most reliable resource: nostalgia. I know plenty of 90's kids who will flock to Paramount Plus because of its stack of Nickelodeon shows. That's not my thing, though, so I'm making sure I've set reminders to cancel my free trial before I get charged.

That said, we plan on updating this review with a starred rating once we have spent more time with it. 

Henry T. Casey

Henry is an editor writer at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and Apple. Prior to joining Tom's Guide — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and looking for the headphone adapter that he unplugged from his iPhone.

  • mm75098
    I am amazed at how no one is talking about the fact that the good folks at CBS and Paramount spent big bucks on silly super bowl ads - and NOTHING on actually upgrading the player. I am a Roku user - so if this rant does not apply on other forgive me. Other than a new splash log it is the same terrible app! No scrubbing (preview) as you FF or RW.... and there is no favorites. The clicks to go from a show to a next episode is also cludgy. I stayed on my subscription for CBS All Access for two more months because they said they would give me half off till the new launch. What a waste! I will pop back on when new Discovery eps are out - but I will make it one month and done because I do not want to pay for such a steaming pile of poo.
    Reply