HBO isn’t the only big TV outlet taking its TV series straight to the masses.
CBS Corp. is launching its own subscription service for on-demand consumption of its flagship network’s TV programs, as well as older series to which it owns the rights. “CBS All Access” will offer thousands of episodes from many of CBS’ current programs, classic series in its library as well as content from its local-TV stations, for $5.99 a month. With the service, anyone who wants to watch CBS shows will be able to do so whether they subscribe to a programming package from a video distributor or not.
The move represents a continuation of the big bet the company made when it declined to take an operating position in Hulu, the video-streaming site run by Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast. At a time when the habit of watching TV programs via digital transmission is in its relative infancy, it may not make sense to tie too strongly to a particular distribution methodology.
That theory was strengthened Wednesday when Time Warner’s HBO announced it would launch a new broadband-distribution service in 2015 that would allow “cord nevers,” or people who do not subscribe to TV programming via cable or satellite, to gain access to its programming.
“We feel confident there’s a meaningful audience for it,” said Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive, the digital arm of CBS, in an interview. He declined to offer a specific estimate for the number of people who might subscribe, though he noted it would likely be a “subset” of its overall user base. CBS Interactive attracts more than 280 million people to its sites each month.
HBO estimated its new standalone service would be welcomed most avidly by the approximately 10 million people who do not subscribe to a video service.
Executives at CBS believe “All Access” will lure die-hard fans willing to pay for extra content, while allowing CBS to continue to “window” its popular programs to various players, which can include local TV stations, cable outlets, international broadcasters and streaming-video players like Netflix and Amazon.
“All Access” will be available starting today at CBS.com and on mobile devices through the CBS App for iOS and Android. Subscribers can watch full current seasons of 15 primetime shows with episodes available the day after they air; live-stream local CBS stations in 14 of the largest U.S. markets; see full past seasons of eight current series, including “The Good Wife,” “Blue Bloods” and “Survivor”; watch more than 5,000 episodes of older programs in the company’s library, such as “Star Trek,” “Cheers,” “Twin Peaks” and “CSI: Miami.”
“This new subscription service will deliver the most of CBS to our biggest fans while being additive to the overall ecosystem,” said CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, in a prepared statement. “Across the board, we continue to capitalize on technological advances that help consumers engage with our world-class programming, and we look forward to serving our viewers in this new and exciting way.”
Not every program identified with CBS will be available. CBS’ football broadcasts are not part of the new service, executives said.
Fifteen CBS shows will have full current seasons available, and eight CBS primetime shows will also have all past seasons available in addition to current seasons. Some shows whose rights are controlled by other studios may only have the past seven episodes of the current season available, depending on what entity has digital and past-season rights.
CBS is in discussions with its affiliates about allowing their content to be distributed through the service.
The new venue shows CBS dabbling in as many opportunities as possible to draw revenue for its content. To be sure, CBS has made some library content as well as a narrow band of episodes of the past seasons of current series available via Hulu and its Hulu Plus subscription site, but it has long burnished the philosophy that the aftermarket fate of each program is something to be decided upon individually. Take, for example, its summer series “Under the Dome,” which plays out on Amazon after running each week on CBS, and is also sold to various parties overseas. Or “The Good Wife,” which runs on Amazon, Hulu Plus. Hallmark Channel and local stations, all under different circumstances.
CBS will be able to funnel some of the views of its “All Access” streams into Nielsen-sanctioned measures, said Marc DeBevoise, executive vice president, entertainment, sports and news, at CBS Interactive, in an interview. And it will also allow sponsors of “All Access” content to use a technology known as “dynamic ad insertion” that will allow them to swap out an old ad for a more current one when viewers watch current-season episodes days or weeks after their original launch.
Episodes from classic series will stream ad free, DeBevoise said, part of an enticement to spur people to subscribe.