In the Hollywood of 2022, even the runaway hits can cause bouts of anxiety. Just ask Shari Redstone. Her ViacomCBS possesses a truly miraculous property in Yellowstone, Taylor Sheridan’s soapy western that finished its fourth season this week as not only the most-watched series on linear cable; it’s pretty much the only thing in all of scripted television that is growing its audience year-over-year. The finale rose to 9.3 million same-day viewers—a crazy 81 percent increase from last season. If only Redstone cared about her cable TV business.
The tragedy of Yellowstone, of course, is that its streaming rights—the platform that Shari and ViacomCBS C.E.O. Bob Bakish actually do care about; the one they are reconfiguring their entire company to serve; and the metric that Wall Street is using to value their assets—are owned by Comcast’s Peacock. The more Yellowstone grows, the more it enriches a rival streaming service that is jockeying to become the fourth or fifth most popular player in a market that will ultimately support only a handful of general-interest competitors. It’s a literal life-or-death game, and Redstone’s underlings gifted her combatant a gilded sword.
The Yellowstone saga will go down both as one of the biggest success stories and missed opportunities of the streaming age. So how did it happen? I became preoccupied by this question as I tried, without luck, to watch the damn show this season. I have cable, but it’s through the Spectrum app, so no DVR. That means I needed to tune in live on Paramount Network, which I’m never going to do; or either go to ParamountNetwork.com or download the Paramount Network app—which is not the Paramount+ app, despite all the ads you might see on the site for Paramount+—and enter my cable login, which I’m also never going to do. Or I could buy episodes individually on Amazon, which I hate doing because I already pay a fortune for all these streaming services.