Why Paramount’s biggest show, Yellowstone, isn’t on Paramount Plus

Kevin Costner stars in Yellowstone, which was the most-watched scripted show on cable television last year.

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Paramount Plus launched Thursday, replacing CBS All Access with a new name and a larger library of things to stream. But missing from their vast selection is the television show most associated with the Paramount name at the moment: Yellowstone. The epic cowboy drama has been a breakaway hit for Paramount Network, one of ViacomCBS’s cable channels. Y Paramount Plus will have a new Yellowstone prequel to stream later this year, with another spinoff to come.

But if you want to binge on Yellowstone, you need to get close to the rival of Paramount Plus. Peacock, which has the exclusive rights to broadcast the first three seasons. When Yellowstone returns after its suspenseful finale last year, an episode that drew the largest audience of any cable scripted television show last year, you can expect season 4 to be on Peacock as well.

And Yellowstone isn’t the only high-profile ViacomCBS program missing from Paramount Plus. If you are looking for Comedy Central’s South Park, you must visit HBO Max. Paramount Plus may be rebooting Nickelodeon’s teen sitcom iCarly, but if you’re reviving the original right now, you’re probably watching it on Netflix, the biggest subscription streaming competitor on the market. The first two seasons of iCarly are among the most watched shows on Netflix in the US right now.

As confusing as it is, that’s by design. Content licensing is big business for ViacomCBS, and for the moment ViacomCBS is betting that top-tier shows can make more money and reach more viewers if they’re off Paramount Plus instead.

These broadcast licensing deals are a lucrative business, one that has grown in opportunities as a parade of deep-pocketed media and tech companies launched a deluge of new services, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “broadcast wars.” Disney Plus, HBO Max, Apple TV Plus, Peacock, Discovery Plus And now Paramount Plus are taking on stalwarts like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, who are also spending even more money on shows they make themselves, or licensed from others. Like everyone that has come before, Paramount Plus hopes that its particular mix of TV shows, movies, and originals will hook you into your vision of the future of television.

But Byzantine licenses like ViacomCBS underscore that even when a new service like Paramount Plus is launched by rallying around its own content, it doesn’t necessarily simplify the number of services you have to use to find and watch your favorite shows and movies online.

Every new streaming service launched from Hollywood makes its own judgment about how much and what to keep for itself. Disney, for example, has been adamant in letting its large licensing deals run out, including a major deal with Netflix that streamed its theatrical movies for an estimated $ 200 million to $ 300 million a year for four years. With those blockbusters reserved for its own service, Disney Plus wanted to become a trusted hub for backlogs from all of its major franchises.

At launch, Paramount Plus is not as aggressive about keeping its properties within its own fold, with titles like Yellowstone, South Park, iCarly, and many others locked into licensing agreements with others. Viacom CBS earned nearly $ 6 billion from licenses last year, nearly a quarter of the company’s total revenue.

“It remains to be seen how much ViacomCBS is willing to risk its existing high-margin licensing business, especially with its current Showtime and key CBS shows already sold around the world,” said Robert Fishman, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, in a note to the final. week.

ViacomCBS has said that its strategy is “evolving” on how much of its own programming it must license itself. When you award your own programming to your own service, you give up loads of money that you could carry if you had given it to someone else. And ViacomCBS has a huge backlog to draw from: roughly 140,000 television episodes and 4,000 movies.

But ViacomCBS doesn’t want all of that in Paramount Plus.

“We can’t keep all of that to ourselves. It doesn’t make sense,” ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said in November. “It’s too much.”

So only a fraction is available on Paramount Plus, which advertises 30,000 episodes and 2,500 movies. (And many of the movies on Paramount Plus won’t be from ViacomCBS – that 2,500-movie influx is part of a licensing agreement ViacomCBS signed with Epix, bringing in movies from a variety of studios.)

However, beyond the money ViacomCBS makes from licenses, Paramount Plus also believes that it can attract more new members if it allows other larger services to have those top-notch titles to stream. Bakish has noted that other platforms may expand the audience for an older show so its reboots and spin-offs have a larger fanbase for Paramount Plus.

It’s perverse logic, but Netflix has 200 million subscribers worldwide. Paramount Plus has less than 30 million, probably much less. ViacomCBS is betting that renting iCarly to Netflix, where it’s one of the most-watched titles right now, could mean more fans down the road for the show’s reboot on Paramount Plus. Interest in Avatar: The Last Airbender spiked last year when the show hit Netflix, which certainly helped motivate ViacomCBS’s decision last week to launch a new studio dedicated to fresh Avatar-Related programming, much (but not all) of which will be on Paramount Plus.

But Yellowstone didn’t go to Peacock to reach more eyeballs. Peacock has only 22 million people signed up so far, and even fewer subscribed to its pay tier that unlocks access to Yellowstone.

So when that Yellowstone Y: 1883 prequel hits Paramount Plus later this year, it will chronicle the arrival of the Dutton family in Montana more than a century ago. Unless you’re already a fan, you’ll need to broadcast elsewhere to find out who the Duttons are.

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