CBS Launches Digital Subscription Service

CBS All Access - H 2014
Courtesy of CBS

CBS All Access - H 2014

The $5.99-a-month service will offer a robust SVOD library plus live local broadcasts

CBS is making its big digital play.

For $5.99 a month, the company is offering a subscriber video-on-demand and live streaming service, aptly titled CBS All Access. In addition to serving up current-season episodes the day after they air, it will offer previous seasons of several CBS-owned shows as well as a vast library of classic CBS series and the ability to stream local CBS television stations live in 14 of the largest U.S. markets. The service will be offered through all major digital platforms, including an app and website, with plans to add to connected TVs at a later date.

All Access marks a considerable move for a network that has long been selective with regard to its digital dealings, famously staying out of the Hulu pact its broadcast rivals made many years earlier. By remaining largely untethered in that way, CBS is able to introduce its new paid service, which is designed to target those being dubbed "CBS superfans," who are seeking greater access to past and present CBS shows. Or, as CBS CEO Leslie Moonves noted: "CBS All Access is another key step in the company's long-standing strategy of monetizing our local and national content in the ways that viewers want it."

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In making the announcement, CBS Interactive CEO Jim Lanzone and his executive vp sports, news and entertainment Marc DeBevoise were adamant that All Access will be complementary to other subscription services, including those of Netflix and Amazon, which CBS relies on for significant revenue. (The news comes just 24 hours after Time Warner announced that HBO would roll out a stand-alone digital service in 2015.) Furthermore, the execs insist that they will continue to do business with the digital SVOD services, just as they will cable networks like TBS and WGN America hungry for off-net programming, but how the stacking rights required for All Access will factor into those deals remains unclear.

"This product is definitely something we're using to go after the 'cord nevers,' who are not subscribing to a bunch of other larger services that include our content — and there are definitely millions of those people in this country," DeBevoise tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding: "In terms of cord-cutting or -shaving, our view is that our service is priced to be complementary to the other services that are out there. If you are interested in a large bundle of channels that has a lot of various things in it, you may not be a subscriber to this service. But if you're deeply interested in one, two or many of our shows, getting our content outside of your home or buying earlier access to our content on mobile devices, then you're one of our superfans and you're going to convert."

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The network settled on the $5.99 monthly fee after conducting consumer research and giving careful consideration to how this bundle compares to the many others on offer in the marketplace. Both Lanzone and DeBevoise are confident that this kind of appetite for CBS content exists. In addition to the network's remarkably loyal linear following, has been the No. 1 network site for five consecutive years (a result of being off Hulu) and CBS' mobile app recently passed 10 million downloads.

All Access will offer subscribers upwards of 6,500 episodes of CBS programming at any given time, up from the 1,000 to 2,000 episodes currently being offered on the network's free site. The more than 5,000-episode library of classic CBS-owned shows, including Cheers, Star Trek and Twin Peaks, will appear ad free as they would on a provider like Netflix. Current and past seasons of CBS programming will feature a 25 percent lighter ad load a la Hulu. (The live local broadcasts will include its regular ad pod, and CBS will broker those deals individually with its partners. CBS intends to expand into other markets over time.)

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"We've held back rights in order to do something like this for years," says DeBevoise, noting that there isn't a one-size-fits-all arrangement with the programming being offered. For instance, there will be full current seasons of 15 primetime shows with episodes available the day after they air, and complete past-season catalogs for eight CBS series including The Good Wife and Blue Bloods. Viewing options will be more limited for summertime scripted entries like Under the Dome, Extant and forthcoming Zoo, since they have exclusive in-season deals with either Amazon or Netflix that, together with their international pacts, make them profitable before they air. (The cable and SVOD deals that have been struck for Good Wife and Blue Bloods are not exclusive.)

With regard to non-CBS-owned fare, subscribers should not expect to see full seasons or, for that matter, any past season. That said, for Warner Bros.-owned programming (think top-rated Big Bang Theory) the network has negotiated rights to a "rolling seven," or the seven most recent episodes — up from the current five being offered on CBS' free site. Late-night fare will have a 21-day window on the service, while game show episodes will have a longer shelf life of six months. The only programming that will not be offered through All Access is NFL Football.