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Paramount+ has a mountain to climb

Protocol Next Up

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week, I take a closer look at Paramount+, the new streaming service from ViacomCBS, and explain why we soon may all turn to VR to test and train our brain.

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The Big Story

Paramount+ has a tall mountain to climb

When Trevor Noah took the stage at ViacomCBS' investor event Wednesday afternoon to announce his own streaming service, Trevor+ — "My plus sign could mean anything!" he said — I was almost ready to believe him.

Of course, it was meant to be a joke, a way to highlight that Noah's "Daily Show" will stream on Paramount+, the new service that was actually being unveiled at the event. But the idea of yet another service seemed not completely out of the question. And that may ultimately be a big problem for Noah's bosses.

First things first: some details. Paramount+ is launching on March 4, succeeds CBS All Access and will cost $9.99 per month. The company plans to launch an ad-supported tier with a slightly smaller content bundle for half that price in June, and also aims to go live in Latin America and Canada on day one.

  • There will be a mountain of content, as executives repeatedly stressed throughout the event. (Get it?) Paramount+ will feature more than 30,000 TV episodes, and the company is looking to launch 36 original series this year. There will also be a bunch of movies, including "Mission Impossible 7" and "A Quiet Place 2," which will arrive on the service 45 days after debuting in theaters. Paramount+ will also have tons of kids' content, courtesy of Nickelodeon, as well as news, comedy, documentaries and reality TV.
  • Oh, and sports: CBS boss George Cheeks said Wednesday that sports had been the No. 1 driver for new subscriptions to the company's CBS All Access service, which is why it is now doubling down on sports content for its successor. Paramount+ will stream the PGA Tour, March Madness, the NFL, UEFA soccer matches, U.S. Women's Soccer and more.

But there are rather a lot of caveats, just in case that all sounds too unbelievably wonderful:

  • In a departure from CBS All Access, that cheaper $5 Paramount+ tier won't offer access to live feeds from local CBS stations.
  • Paramount+ will have some BET content, but ViacomCBS will continue to operate BET+ as a separate streaming service going forward. The same is true for Showtime, which will also operate as a standalone service. The company did promise to offer bundles for customers that want access to Paramount+, BET+ and Showtime.
  • Oh, and ViacomCBS will also keep free, ad-supported services like CBSN and Pluto, which will presumably get a bunch of those Paramount+ shows at some point down the line.

Confused? I doubt you're alone. Watching Wednesday's presentation, I couldn't help but wonder how this pitch will fare with consumers who already have tons of stuff to watch.

  • ViacomCBS isn't alone in running multiple streaming services. Disney for instance has Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. However, each of them have a unique value proposition. Disney+ is for kids and family, Hulu has some of the edgier stuff for older audiences and ESPN+ is obviously all about sports.
  • Paramount+ on the other hand is… well, a mountain of content. Lots of great stuff for sure, and I personally can't wait for Nickelodeon's new Avatar Studios to churn out sequels to "The Last Airbender."
  • But will consumers want to subscribe to yet another service whose brand doesn't really communicate why anyone needs it? Will they dip in and out of Paramount+ to catch a few shows here and there? Will the service effectively compete against Showtime for a limited amount of time, attention and dollars?

ViacomCBS has its work cut out to refine the messaging for Paramount+. Or, you know, it could always launch Trevor+.


"Cord cutting is going to explode in 2021/2022 … the bundle is being eviscerated in front of our eyes." —LightShed Partners analyst Richard Greenfield, responding to ViacomCBS announcing its Paramount+ streaming service.

"I think it's a really interesting format from a creation perspective, but I suspect that from the consumption perspective, most of the time consumed will still be on-demand." —Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on potential competition from Clubhouse and similar live audio services.



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Watch Out

Next up for VR: cognitive fitness and mental health

With headsets finally reaching a broader audience, many have been wondering: What will be the next killer app for VR? Gaming has been a major driver, but fitness has also emerged as a surprisingly compelling use case, with consumers replacing gyms closed by lockdowns with VR exercise. Portugal-based VR startup Virtuleap believes mental workouts could be next.

Virtuleap promises virtual brain training from its Enhance VR app: During daily 15-minute sessions, users get to play short games and puzzles that test their motor skills, episodic memory, attention and more. Each game is based on proven scientific cognitive tests, but what really makes them work is the immersion of VR, explained Virtuleap CEO Amir Bozorgzadeh. "The body believes it's real," he said.

  • The goal of Enhance is not to turn players into geniuses, Bozorgzadeh stressed. "Our mission is not for you to be smarter or have super-powers." Instead, it's just as much about assessing your mental fitness, and diagnosing any issues that may arise over time.
  • One example: Alzheimer's symptoms are often only noticed by family members when the disorder has progressed significantly. With Enhance, Virtuleap wants to be able to flag cognitive decline much earlier. "Games like ours will allow us to notice that," said CTO Hossein Jalali.

Enhance is built on an AWS-powered backend that collects more than 200,000 data points for three minutes of gameplay. The company is also asking users about their emotional state and sleep habits at the beginning of every session, and has begun to add third-party data, including from fitness trackers.

  • Next up will be data from advanced VR devices like the HP Reverb Omnicept, which tracks heart rate, gaze and more. "Biometric data is a game changer," said Bozorgzadeh.
  • And Virtuleap is looking to broaden the distribution of Enhance. The app is already optimized for Facebook's Quest 2 headset, and Bozorgzadeh told me that he hopes to go live on Facebook's new App Lab store within the next couple of days.

Virtuleap ultimately wants to develop a kind of gym for your brain, something you visit habitually to track and improve mental fitness not because it's fun, but because you know it's good for you. To get there, the startup is taking a bit of a different path than the Calms and Lumositys of this world.

  • It is prioritizing working with drug makers and research institutions over developing a B2C business, with partners including the VA Health Care system, UCSF and the Texas Medical Center. "We have the research prioritized," said Bozorgzadeh.
  • Once the science proves out Virtuleap's approach, the company believes it can also cater better to individuals with a freemium model. "In five years, we will be a B2C company," Bozorgzadeh said.

Fast Forward

Auf Wiedersehen

Tuesday evening, news broke that consumer electronics retailer Fry's was closing all of its stores effective immediately. Not a big surprise to anyone who actually visited one of their stores over the past few years, but it's still a very sad end to a very weird and wonderful chain. Fry's was one of those stores that truly had everything. CPUs, hard drives and anything else you'd need to build your own computer; routers, streaming devices, cables, electronics components; a random assortment of toys and knickknacks (my daughter bought her first kite at Fry's); an in-house cafe that served truly terrible sandwiches; a whole aisle of adult magazines and DVDs, further indicating that the chain's proprietors never really understood the internet; that long row of candy on the way to the cash registers; and of course, those amazing decorations, with each and every store following a different theme. Sooner or later, someone is probably going to recreate all of them in VR. Until then, you can marvel at the photos fellow Fry's fans have shared on Twitter.

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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