Read the ViacomCBS press release here about the rebrand of CBS All Access to Paramount Plus.
A couple months back when ViacomCBS announced that CBS All Access would see a rebrand, I questioned what the new name would be. The company hinted that CBS isn’t a brand known with young people or globally, plus like the rest of the media conglomerates, they plan to pull together their brands and IP to create an enticing service that isn’t just CBS.
It’s easy to see where the other conglomerates got their streaming service names from. Disney is probably the most well-known brand period, so Disney+ makes perfect sense. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max also makes perfect sense as HBO is a very strong brand, and when Netflix was ramping up its original content, many referred to it as the new HBO, so it works well. The only one that is a little strange is Comcast’s Peacock. I understand the name comes from the NBC logo being a peacock, plus the name resonates with people who have a history with NBC. I don’t see any one Comcast brand to encompass the NBCUniversal library, so it makes sense to create a new and very unique name.
ViacomCBS’s CEO unveiled a free-paid-premium streaming strategy months ago, with Showtime being the premium and Pluto TV being the free. Given this, I thought Pluto Plus would’ve been the natural name. Since Viacom’s acquisition of Pluto TV, they have invested heavily into a better interface, more content, and lots of marketing. Pluto TV has tens of millions of active viewers monthly, and even serves as a promotional vehicle for new content premiering on ViacomCBS’s linear channels or CBS All Access. When Yellowstone’s new season premiered, a marathon aired on Pluto TV of the first two seasons. The same happened with the reboot of The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access. Given that Pluto TV will serve as ViacomCBS’s free service to give a preview of what is available on the paid platform, the name Pluto Plus, although not a universally known brand, would help the viewer better understand how to watch ViacomCBS’s content, with “Pluto Plus with Showtime” being the premium offering.
That, however, didn’t happen. ViacomCBS chose Paramount Plus for its new name. Personally, I have some mixed thoughts on this. On the positive side, Paramount is a brand that has been around for over 100 years, so it is clearly the most well-known of the ViacomCBS brands. More than that, there isn’t another brand within the ViacomCBS portfolio that isn’t completely niche. There’s Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, BET, and CBS just to name a few, and they all serve specific audiences that wouldn’t work to promote an all-encompassing streaming service.
It’s the same reason why Spike was rebranded Paramount Network. Spike was “the first network for men,” which never exactly took off. G4 also tried that and failed miserably. Spike’s highest rated show was CSI, which was pulling in a largely female audience. Over time, Spike switched to reality shows which pulled in more viewers, and as Viacom realized they were missing out on the FX/AMC premium scripted shows, they decided to end the gritty Spike name in favor of the more general and premium-sounding Paramount Network.
So, if general and premium is what they are going for, Paramount Plus works. On the negative side, no one has a connection to Paramount Pictures. They’ve produced and distributed many great films, including many Marvel movies (which won’t be on Paramount Plus, of course). But there’s only one movie company that can get people excited to pay hundreds of dollars just based on the name, and that’s Disney. Look at Peacock; if Comcast had chosen Universal Plus instead, I don’t think it would’ve done the service justice, especially considering the service has more content outside the Comcast library, like ViacomCBS’s Yellowstone. The service also has more than just movies, which is what people associate with Paramount.
Paramount has no real connection to most consumers outside of slight recognition, but it also has no real connection to the content on CBS All Access. Paramount is not a name synonymous with news, sports, TV shows, or the ViacomCBS brands, so how will this be marketed? Much like Peacock has content outside the Comcast library, so does CBS All Access, and I would imagine this will continue, thus confusing consumers who may assume Paramount Plus just has Paramount movies South Park’s HBO Max deal was worth hundreds of millions of dollars; would Paramount Plus be willing to do the same for popular outside content to gain consumers? Also, what will happen to the ViacomCBS shows that are now on HBO Max, Peacock, Hulu and Netflix? Will they let these potentially lucrative deals expire and then bring them in to Paramount Plus, where the service has a chance to not be as popular?
This is my biggest issue with ViacomCBS’s streaming strategy. If it changes in a few years, fine, but at the moment, Paramount Plus is advertised as a place for Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and MTV content, and if much of the libraries of these shows are outside Paramount Plus, what’s the point of advertising them? Plus, many shows are leaving linear channels for streaming services, like Tosh.0 and The Other Two (NBC also did this with A.P. Bio on Peacock), so what makes a show worthy of being on the linear side of a brand versus the streaming side?
I’m not saying Pluto Plus is a better name for CBS All Access, but if ViacomCBS still wants to push Pluto TV as the first step into their streaming strategy, it would make a little sense to tie the two services together. But much like my argument that Paramount has no connection to the entire ViacomCBS library, I guess Pluto also has no connection. Plus, Pluto isn’t the most popular streaming service, so if ViacomCBS had to pick a strong, well-known, and neutral name, Paramount is it. Either way, ViacomCBS has an uphill battle to prove itself to streaming consumers, and content, not brand recognition, remains king. At least the price will stay the same.