If you want to binge previous seasons of Yellowstone, the Paramount Network app and website have those too.
And ViacomCBS has a big back catalog to tap into: roughly 140,000 TV episodes and 4,000 films. The company doesn’t want all that on Paramount Plus.
The main distinction to understand when it comes to how to stream Yellowstone is that Paramount Plus is different from Paramount Network, which is where Yellowstone will run its finale Sunday.
However, beyond the money ViacomCBS makes by licensing, Paramount Plus also believes it may be able to draw in more new members if it lets other, bigger services have some of its titles to stream. Bakish has noted that other platforms can expand the audience for an older show so that its reboots and spinoffs have a bigger fan base for Paramount Plus.
Bakish has repeatedly said the company’s strategy is “evolving” in terms of how much of its own programming it should license and how much it should keep for itself. The company’s licensing strategy has “shifted to become much more focused” on having its own franchises on its own streaming service, he said in November. But the “legacy deals” the company struck before the launch of Paramount Plus can have a long tail, he added.
Where you can stream Yellowstone
On Paramount Plus, you can’t stream Yellowstone — old episodes or new ones — at all.
Disney has been firm in letting its deals expire for anything it previously licensed out to other services. That included a major deal that let Netflix stream Disney’s theatrical movies for an estimated 0 million to 0 million a year over four years. But Disney Plus wanted to become a reliable hub for its own catalog, so Disney let that Netflix deal run out and stopped shopping those blockbusters to rival services.
Paramount Plus, however, has been much more willing to license its top titles elsewhere.
“We can’t keep all that for ourself. It doesn’t make sense,” CEO Bob Bakish said a year ago, as Paramount Plus was preparing for launch. “It’s too much.”
CNET TVs, Streaming and Audio
NBCUniversal, in addition to licensing Yellowstone for its Peacock service, won the rights to its own show The Office back from Netflix at the beginning of 2021 so Peacock could stream the sitcom exclusively.
Get CNET’s comprehensive coverage of home entertainment tech delivered to your inbox.
But if you’re a cord-cutter or otherwise don’t have access to Paramount Network, then you need to go to Peacock to stream the first three seasons. The fourth season will stream on Peacock eventually too. Peacock hasn’t announced the timing that it will begin streaming Yellowstone’s fourth season yet, but you can expect it will be sometime after the season finale on Paramount Network — likely, it will be months after the finale.
Why you can’t stream Yellowstone on Paramount Plus
If you want to stream Yellowstone’s finale, then you’ll need to try unlocking the Paramount Network app, not Paramount Plus. If you want to binge Yellowstone’s back catalog, you can mosey over to Paramount Plus rival Peacock, which has an exclusive deal to be the only subscription streaming service with the first three seasons. And after the fourth season concludes, eventually that whole batch of Yellowstone episodes will move over to a subscription streaming service — but again, it’ll be Peacock.
One exception: Paramount put the first episode of Yellowstone’s fourth season outside its paywall, so anybody is able to stream this episode — titled Half the Money — free on Paramount Network’s app or website. If you want to watch any other episodes of the fourth season, you’ll need to sign up for a pay-TV subscription. (Philo, mentioned above, is one of the cheapest online options to get access to Paramount Network; it also offers a weeklong free trial.)
Every new streaming service launching out of Hollywood makes its own judgment about how much, and what, to keep for itself. Some streaming services have been aggressive in getting their titles back to their own services.
Like the rest in the parade of new streaming services — including Disney Plus, HBO Max, Apple TV Plus, Peacock and Discovery Plus — Paramount Plus hopes its own particular concoction of TV and movies will hook you on its own vision for TV’s future. But byzantine licensing deals like Yellowstone’s underscore that even when a new service like Paramount Plus launches by rallying around its own content, that doesn’t necessarily make it simpler for you to find and watch your favorite shows and movies online.
Yellowstone is, by far, Paramount Network’s biggest hit. It’s also one of the biggest hits on cable, period. Last year’s cliffhanger finale drew the biggest audience of any scripted TV show on cable in 2020, with 7.6 million viewers watching it. Its fourth season premiere in November nearly doubled, with 14.7 million viewers. And for anyone hoping to catch up on past seasons or watch the finale as soon as it hits, streaming service Paramount Plus would seem like the natural place to turn.
As confusing as that is, it’s by design. Yellowstone isn’t the only high-profile ViacomCBS title missing from Paramount Plus and streaming elsewhere: If you’re looking for Comedy Central’s South Park, for example, you need to check out HBO Max. Content licensing is a big business for ViacomCBS, and so is the revenue generated by having a hit show on a traditional cable network like Paramount Network. ViacomCBS placed a bet that some top-shelf programs can make more money — and reach more eyeballs — if they’re available somewhere other than Paramount Plus, even if it means a big Paramount show like Yellowstone isn’t on Paramount Plus at all.
So what does Paramount Plus actually have related to Yellowstone? Spinoffs. On Dec. 19, Paramount Plus began streaming a prequel titled 1883, which focuses on the Dutton family more than a century ago as they move west and establish the Yellowstone Ranch. And on Nov. 14, Paramount Plus premiered Mayor of Kingstown, a drama series co-created by Yellowstone’s creator Taylor Sheridan; while Mayor of Kingstown isn’t directly tied to Yellowstone, Paramount Plus is pitching it as a bit of a spiritual spinoff. But that strategy also means that for new fans of Yellowstone prequel 1883 on Paramount Plus, as they watch the chronicles of the Dutton family’s arrival in Montana more than a century ago, they’ll need to go elsewhere to figure out who the Duttons even are.
So if you want to stream the finale or any other episodes from Yellowstone’s fourth season, the only place to stream them at first will be on Paramount Network’s channel, website or app. And Yellowstone finale will be available to stream only for “authenticated” online viewers — that is, people who can log in with their live-TV service’s credentials to prove they’re already paying for Paramount Network.
But counterintuitively, the one show most associated with the Paramount name is nowhere to be found on Paramount Plus.
It’s a perverse sort of logic. But Netflix has more than 213 million subscribers worldwide, whereas Paramount Plus has fewer — probably far fewer — than 47 million. ViacomCBS is betting that renting the back catalog of Nickelodeon’s iCarly to Netflix may help spark a wider fandom, which in turn may be attracted to Paramount Plus for its exclusive reboot of the series. Interest in Avatar: The Last Airbender surged last year when the show hit Netflix, certainly helping motivate ViacomCBS’ decision to launch an entire new studio dedicated to fresh Avatar-related programming.