Kevin Costner starred in Yellowstone, the most-watched script show on cable last year.
Yellowstone, the hit cowboy drama on Paramount Network, returns for its fourth season on Sunday. The premiere at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET will reveal who survived last year’s cliffhanger finale – an episode that drew the biggest audience of any scripted TV show on cable in 2020. For people looking to catch up on the past seasons or keep up to date with new episodes, the Paramount Plus streaming service seems like the natural place to turn. But contrary to intuition, the one TV show most associated with the Paramount name is nowhere to be found.
If you want to conquer Yellowstone on your own, you will have to switch to rival Paramount Plus, which has an exclusive deal to be the only subscription streaming service for the first three seasons. If you’d like to stream the new episodes of Yellowstone starting Sunday, you’ll need to try unlocking the Paramount Network app, not Paramount Plus. And once season four is over, that whole slew of new Yellowstone episodes will move to a subscription streaming service – but again, it will be Peacock.
Confusing as this is, it is by design. Yellowstone isn’t the only high-profile comCBS title missing from Paramount Plus and streamed elsewhere: if you’re looking for Comedy Central’s South Park then you have to stop by, for example. Content licensing is big business for comCBS, as is the revenue generated by running a successful show on a traditional cable network like Paramount Network. comCBS has bet that some top-notch programs can make more money – and get more exposure – if they’re available in a location other than Paramount Plus, even if that means a big Paramount show like Yellowstone isn’t on Paramount Plus at. is empty.
Like the rest of the parade of new streaming services, including, HBO-Max, , Peacock, and others, Paramount Plus hopes that its particular blend of television and movies will captivate you with its own vision for the future of television. But Byzantine licensing deals like comCBS for Yellowstone emphasize that even if a new service like Paramount Plus launches by collecting its own content, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to find and watch your favorite shows and movies online.
CNET television, streaming and audio
Get CNET’s extensive coverage of home entertainment technology in your inbox.
Where to stream Yellowstone
The main difference you need to understand about streaming Yellowstone is that Paramount Plus is different from the Paramount Network, where Yellowstone will premiere its fourth season on Sunday.
You cannot stream Yellowstone at all on Paramount Plus – old or new episodes.
Paramount Network is a traditional cable channel available to those who pay for it through a live television provider, and Paramount Network’s programming can be streamed on the Internet at paramountnetwork.com or its Paramount Network app. But it’s only available to stream to those who are already paying for the channel with one of those live TV subscriptions like Cable, Satellite, or A.like YouTube TV or .
If you’d like to stream the new season four episodes of Yellowstone, you can only stream them on the Paramount Network website or app for now. And these Yellowstone episodes will only be available to stream to “authenticated” online viewers – that is, people who can log in with their live TV service credentials to prove they are already paying for Paramount Network .
One exception: The Yellowstone season premieres on Sunday outside the paywall, so anyone can watch the show on the Paramount Network app or website on Sunday.
If you’d like to experience previous seasons of Yellowstone, the Paramount Network app and website has these too.
But if you’re a cable cutter or otherwise don’t have access to the Paramount Network, you’ll have to head over to Peacock to stream the first three seasons. Season four will eventually also stream on Peacock. Peacock hasn’t announced the timing of the season four of Yellowstone to begin streaming, but you can expect it to be sometime after the season finale ends on Paramount Network.
What does Paramount Plus have to do with Yellowstone? Finally spin-offs. On December 19, Paramount Plus will stream a prequel titled 1883 that focuses on the Dutton family more than a century ago when they moved west and started the Yellowstone Ranch. And on November 14th, Paramount Plus will premiere Mayor of Kingstown, a drama series co-created by Yellowstone’s creator Taylor Sheridan; While the Mayor of Kingstown isn’t directly affiliated with Yellowstone, Paramount Plus introduces it as some sort of spiritual spin-off.
Why you can’t stream Yellowstone on Paramount Plus
Every new streaming service that starts out of Hollywood decides for itself how much and what to keep for itself. Some streaming services have been aggressive to bring their titles back to their own service.
Disney was determined to let its contracts expire if they license its shows and films to other services. That included a big deal that allowed Netflix to stream Disney’s movies for an estimated $ 200 to $ 300 million per year over four years. But Disney Plus wanted to become a reliable hub for its own back catalog, so Disney let that Netflix deal expire and stopped buying those blockbusters from competing services.
NBCUniversal, in addition to licensing Yellowstone for its Peacock service, earlier this year reclaimed the rights to its own show, The Office, from Netflix so that Peacock could exclusively stream the sitcom.
And WarnerMedia’s HBO Max has repeatedly recaptured the rights to all eight Harry Potter films from NBCUniversal and Peacock. WarnerMedia’s Warner Bros. licensed all of these films to NBCUniversal years ago in an epic deal. That got NBCUniversal’s Peacock to stream them instead of HBO Max. But WarnerMedia has snapped them back on occasion and given him the opportunity to bolster HBO Max with a popular franchise.
Paramount Plus hasn’t been as aggressive, however, either in keeping its top properties in its own space, nor in reclaiming those it has licensed elsewhere.
One reason for this is that out-licensing titles can be a lucrative business. So far this year, comCBS has made $ 4.6 billion from licenses, nearly a quarter of the company’s total revenue. That money comes from a range of licenses, from television syndication to Paw Patrol stuffed animals and costumes. But also outsourcing titles like Yellowstone, South Park and others to the direct rivals of Paramount Plus is part of it. By leaving your own programming entirely to your own service, you are foregoing tons of money that you could have made if you had licensed it to someone else.
And comCBS has a large back catalog to open up: around 140,000 TV episodes and 4,000 films. The company does not want any of that at Paramount Plus.
“We can’t keep all of this to ourselves. It doesn’t make sense,” said CEO Bob Bakish a year ago as Paramount Plus was preparing to launch. “It is too much.”
Bakish has repeatedly said that the company’s strategy “evolves” of how much of its own programming it should license and how much it should keep to itself, and sounded like the same refrain on Thursday. The company’s licensing strategy has “shifted to focus much more on” having its own franchises on its own streaming service, he said. But the “legacy deals” the company made prior to the launch of Paramount Plus could have a long ending, he added.
However, aside from the money comCBS makes from licensing, Paramount Plus believes it can potentially attract more new members if it allows other, larger services to stream some of its titles. Bakish found that other platforms could expand the audience for an older show, so their reboots and spinoffs would have a larger following for Paramount Plus.
It’s a perverse kind of logic. But Netflix has more than 213 million subscribers worldwide, while Paramount Plus has fewer – probably far fewer – than 47 million. comCBS is betting that renting out Nickelodeon’s iCarly’s back catalog to Netflix could help spark a wider fandom, which in turn could be attracted to Paramount Plus for its exclusive reboot of the series. Interest in Avatar: The Last Airbender rose last year when the show hit Netflix and certainly helped motivate comCBS’s decision to start a full series-related programming.
But that strategy also means that when the Yellowstone prequel hits Paramount Plus in December 1883, documenting the arrival of the Dutton family in Montana more than a century ago, the stranger will have to go elsewhere to find out who the duttons are .