CBS rolled out its new subscription-based video platform CBS All Access on Thursday and here is a quick look at what subscribers can expect. This review is of the web-based version, which is integrated into the CBS.com web site. A review of the mobile platform is coming soon.
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE:
CBS All Access is fully integrated into the CBS.com web site. Once you subscribe, all you need to do to access is the service is visit the web site and sign in.
Currently, CBS is running a "Try free for one week" promotion, which is similar to the deal Hulu is currently offering people if they subscribe to Hulu Plus. The cost is $5.99 a month, which covers the web and mobile. CBS promises access through other connected devices "in the coming months."
WHAT PROGRAMMING IS AVAILABLE?
The literature for CBS All Access promises the chance to watch full seasons of current programs, past seasons of "some of your favorites" as well as "5,000" episodes of CBS Classic TV. Subscribers will also be able to stream the 24/7 Big Brother live streams when the show returns next summer.
CBS All Access subscribers can watch every episode of the current season of 15 primetime shows, with new episodes available the day after they air. Since CBS.com is currently offering 4-5 of the most recent episodes of each series for free streaming, it's not clear which primetime shows will be included in that group of 15. It seems that there are going to be some gaps, we just won't know for sure until we're deeper into the new season.
One thing to note is that like, Hulu Plus, paying for access doesn't give you the option of watching the shows without advertising. It just gives you access to more programming.
PAST SEASONS OF CURRENT PROGRAMS
Full seasons of eight current seasons are available on CBS All Access. While subscribers can watch past seasons of "The Good Wife," "Blue Bloods" and "Survivor," those shows are also available on SVOD services such as Hulu. What's notable is the list of shows that don't offer past seasons, including "NCIS," "Elementary," "Person of Interst," "Mike & Molly," "NCIS Los Angeles" and "Big Bang Theory." In other words, the shows that have value in syndication and whose past seasons have already been sold off to cable networks and/or SVOD platforms.
LIVE STREAMING YOUR LOCAL CBS AFFILIATE
Subscribers in 14 of the largest markets can view a live stream of their local CBS affiliate. But there is a caveat. The live stream is only available for the CBS national programs, local news and selected syndicated programs. If you attempt to view the live stream at other times (for instance, during the live airing of "The Queen Latifah Show," you'll receive the splashpage shown below:
One note about the live stream interface. The video is smooth and there's a handy guide just below the video window that lists upcoming programming. Although it would be helpful if that guide noted which programs are available for live streaming.
CBS CLASSIC TV PROGRAMMING
It's true that there seems to be abut 5,000 episodes of classic TV and the upside is that the classic shows run without ads. But the shows are already available through Hulu, Amazon and/or Netflix and looking down the list I don't see anything that isn't already available elsewhere. Given the library of CBS-owned programming, I'm not sure why they didn't decide to include some more obscure programs, just to differentiate CBS All Access from its rivals.
SO, IS IT WORTH IT?
Maybe. If you're a true cord-cutter and don't have a cable TV subscription, or you like the idea of watching programs live on your mobile device, it's a helpful service. But like many other digital TV products, previous content deals leave some big holes in the list of available shows. You'll have to decide if that's a deal breaker for you.
CBS All Access is most important for what it means long-term. This is another effort to widen the audience for broadcast television shows and that's always a good thing. Viewing on CBS All Access will also apparently be included as part of the official ratings from Nielsen, which is likely to boost the ratings overall.
In the end, CBS All Access isn't perfect. But it's a good start and at $5.99 a month, it might not provide the same value as Hulu or Netflix. But it's a fair price and coming in the same week as the news of an over-the-top HBO service, it's another indication that the television business is undergoing a massive change in its revenue and distribution model.