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Paramount Plus is poised for greater things, but it'll still take time

Paramount Plus on Roku
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

We're now two months in to the life of Paramount+, the reincarnation of the streaming service known as CBS All Access and the online future of ViacomCBS. Listen to the executives, and they're more than pleased by how things have gone so far. But maybe more important than that is what's still to come.

We haven't, for instance, gotten anywhere near the expanded Yellowstone universe that's been promised. We're still months away from the first NFL season that will touch Paramount+. New seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Prodigy are coming. (OK, two out of those three will land in 2021.)

In other words, for as long as CBS All Access was around, it's still early days yet for Paramount+. And that's even more true when you remember that a big reason for Paramount+ in the first place is international expansion.

Those are all things of which we were reminded this week during the ViacomCBS first-quarter 2021 earnings call. There weren't any real secrets divulged, just a few more details.

Here are the big takeaways:

We don't actually know how many subscribers Paramount Plus has

Two numbers that came out of the Q1 earnings reports were 36 million, and 6 million. The former is the total number of "total streaming subscribers." What it is not — never mind headlines you may have seen to the contrary — is the number of subscribers to Paramount+. 

ViacomCBS has a number of streaming properties. Paramount+ is the big one, for sure. But it's not the only one. There's also Showtime. There's also BET+. Noggin. Pluto TV. A minority stake in Philo. So the numbers don't quite have the transparency we (or analysts) might like.

The 6 million number refers to how many global streaming subscribers were added in the quarter, and "the significant majority of new subscribers were from Paramount+ and of those the significant majority were domestic customers," ViacomCBS CFO Naveen Chopra said.

Look for lots more new movies ... in 2022

One of the most important things for any streaming service is new content. The more — and the more often — the better. And that's been probably the biggest holdup for Paramount+ thus far. It's not that there's nothing to watch, and it's not even that there's nothing new to watch. It's just that the timing has been tough.

The transition to Paramount+ happened in early March 2021. It brought with it a bit of new fare, but a lot of that came in the form of "unscripted" shows — reality TV. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. But a 30-year revamp of the original cast of The Real World and Road Rules isn't going to bring people in week after week after week.

You're going to hear a lot more about movies throughout the rest of the year. But it's next year that the execs have really turned their sights toward.

"All of this is a preview to a substantial ramping up of original movies next year," said ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, "where we expect to begin averaging an original movie a week in 2022. We'll have more on this in the months ahead."

That's destination television. That's what got folks tuning in to HBO on Saturday nights, to see the new movie they hadn't seen yet. That's the consistency that Paramount+ needs.

Global expansion is still coming, and still a big deal

The United States is important, but it's still just one market in a much bigger world. It's a fraction of the business that Netflix does. Or Amazon. Or Disney, which has greatly expanded Disney+ over the past year or so. HBO Max is ramping things up across the globe this year, too.

And so, too, will Paramount+. 

"We're moving to accelerate Paramount+'s global expansion," Bakish said. "We have already established ourselves in Canada, the Nordics, and all of Latin America including Brazil."

We'll have a couple months of lag time before Australia comes online on Aug. 11, Bakish said. That launch will bring Paramount Movies, Showtime and Paramount+ originals, along with cable brands and Australia's own Network 10 shows.

And that's just the start. Bakish said to expect to see Paramount+ in 25 markets by the end of 2021, and it expects to hit 45 markets by the end of 2022.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.