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Why is Paramount+ missing seasons of The Challenge, The Real World, and other reality TV?

Why is Paramount+ missing seasons of The Challenge, The Real World, and other reality TV?

I recently signed up for Paramount+ and was excited to dig in to some older seasons of Real World and Challenge that I remembered enjoying, just for nostalgia and to see if they hold up at all. I was surprised to see their offerings for both were so patchy: they are both missing (most of) their oldest seasons, and even the newer seasons have seemingly random gaps (e.g. Real World is missing seasons 22 and 25 but has the rest of the 20s). What gives? Does Paramount not actually have streaming rights to these for some reason? Or were they withheld deliberately for some reason? —Kenny

You’ve discovered one of the most frustrating—and yet very intentional—things Paramount+ has done in its short and frustrating life.

At its launch in March, Paramount+ was simply CBS All Access with a new coat of paint, and despite promising “a mountain of entertainment” with “more than 30,000 episodes and countless films from ViacomCBS’ family of world-renowned brands and production studios,” people quickly discovered that a lot was missing. (Paramount Plus? More like Paramount Minus! Zing! But I’ll forgive them for giving us The Real World Homecoming, which was perfect.)

Paramount+ doesn’t have a button for VH1’s reality shows, nor something even more useful, like a watchlist. There are also big gaps in the shows that they do have. All 40 seasons of Survivor are on Paramount+, but the three most-recent seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s are not. There are many examples of this, including the missing seasons of the MTV reality shows you mentioned:

  • The Real World seasons 5 to 11, 13, 14, 19, 22, and 25
  • The Challenge seasons 1 to 10, 14, 32, and 34 to 36

So why is that? I’ve reached out to Paramount+ to ask about those seasons specifically, and I’ll update if I hear back. But I do think I know what’s going on here.

First, one thing that complicates the ability to stream older shows is their use of music. The New York Times just reported on this, and about why, even when a show or episode is streaming, it’s sometimes missing its original music. The short version: “the process of licensing popular tunes can be prohibitively expensive.” Old TV shows used short-term licensing deals to get big songs for less, and now they can’t afford the rights: “between $30,000 and $40,000 on average for indefinite rights to a popular song,” the Times reported. That explains weird music in seasons that are streaming, and could explain seasons that are not yet streaming.

But Paramount+ is missing shows for another reason, which also has to do with money. In a must-read story about Paramount+’s strategy, my friend Joe Adalian reported for Vulture that:

“ViacomCBS simply can’t afford to completely give up all of the billions it takes in from licensing its content to third parties. It doesn’t have theme parks (Disney, Comcast), doesn’t own a distribution platform (Comcast, WarnerMedia), and of course isn’t a tech giant (Amazon, Apple).”

In other words, ViacomCBS—the parent company of MTV, VH1, Showtime, CBS, and Paramount+, among other networks—is licensing broadcast and streaming rights to other networks and platforms in order to generate revenue. And that means those shows or seasons aren’t available for them to put on Paramount+.

Tom Ryan, who’s the president and CEO of ViacomCBS’s streaming services, told Adalian that may change in the future: “We are going to be more selective about how we license. We’ll stay in the licensing game … but Paramount+ is a much broader service than CBS All Access was. The opportunities, and the need for bringing a lot more of that content to our own platform rather than licensing it off, is going to increase.”

But where are the seasons of The Challenge and The Real World? Some of them are streaming—just not on Paramount+.

Where can I find Paramount+’s missing reality TV?

Paramount+ Paramount Plus

So for now, ViacomCBS has its spread all over the place, and Paramount+ isn’t a central hub. That affects reality TV and scripted shows, too: Paramount Network sold streaming rights for Yellowstone’s first three seasons to Peacock, and so Paramount Network’s marquee show is not available on Paramount Plus.

Its other marquee show, the work of kind, compassionate art that is Bar Rescue, is on Paramount+. Well, its first six seasons at least. Seasons seven and eight aren’t on Paramount+, though you can buy them elsewhere, and watch them on Direct TV or Fubo.

That’s basically the case with most reality shows with missing seasons: they’re all over. You can watch RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 and 13 with a cable login on VH1.com, while there are clips only of season 11 on its production company’s streaming service, Wow Presents Plus.

Some absences are more obvious than others. The Real World season 33, for example, did not air on MTV, but on Facebook, which bought the rights to the format, so it holds the streaming rights. (Forever?)

While The Real World seasons 5 to 11 aren’t available anywhere I could find, along with seasons 13, 14, and 19:

While The Challenge seasons 1 to 9 don’t seem to be streaming anywhere:

That’s such a weird assortment—Why does Hulu only have three seasons of The Challenge, for example? Why are 30 and 31 on Paramount+ but not 32?—and I won’t even begin to speculate as to how or why that kind of strategy makes sense. Okay, I’ll speculate a little: It seems that a lot of these were piecemeal deals, and now it’s a challenge just to find The Challenge.

Because all of this is such a mess from our perspective as viewers and consumers, I’ve found myself relying on JustWatch, which is both a website and an app, and a completely amazing service. Search for a show, browse to a season, and JustWatch will tell you everywhere it can find that show. It feels like magic compared to the shitshow that streaming services have created with their bad user interfaces and their confusing availability.

Occasionally, I’ve discovered something isn’t where JustWatch says it is, and I think that’s because streaming deals expire and change frequently. More often, however, I’ve been surprised to learn a show is available, like earlier this year when I found one of my all-time favorite shows, The Chair, on Tubi—though it is no longer there, because of course not.

I trust JustWatch’s algorithms and crawlers to keep track better than I can, so hopefully it’ll help you, too. And perhaps one day JustWatch will point us to Paramount+ to find those missing seasons of The Real World and The Challenge.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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