NEW YORK – I dropped my cable TV service more than a year ago and have been relying on Netflix, Hulu and other services to fill my television needs. But I get my shows at least a day late. With CBS' new All Access streaming service, I can watch shows right when they air.
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But is it worth $6 a month? The service is a good start. But the network needs to do more to make it worth the money — especially as HBO and other channels start to compete for online dollars.
Here's what you get:
— LIVE TV:
You must be within the coverage area of a CBS-owned station in 14 markets, though the network is trying to make deals with independent CBS affiliates too. Some sporting events, namely pro football, aren't included. Sports is a chief reason people want live TV, so this is a major gap. CBS does have streaming rights, though, for Southeastern Conference college football.
My biggest complaint is the lack of controls for pausing or rewinding. That's something I now expect from online services, even for "live" TV. And there are no recording capabilities to let you catch shows a few hours late. I can get more by hooking up an antenna and a TiVo digital-video recorder.
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— CURRENT SHOWS:
CBS' website already offers the past five episodes of most shows for free. You get the latest the day after the broadcast. To watch on mobile devices, though, you have to wait an extra week. Paying for the subscription removes that delay.
With a subscription, you're also getting the entire current season for many shows. You still get ads, but I found I was getting one 30-second spot fewer per each commercial break.
For eight shows, you can get all past seasons as well: "The Good Wife," ''Blue Bloods," ''Survivor," ''Big Brother," ''The Amazing Race," ''Undercover Boss," ''60 Minutes" and "48 Hours." But I can get many of these elsewhere, and news programs from 10 years ago aren't that appealing. I would watch "The Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men," but those come from Warner Bros., which already has lucrative deals for various channels to show them as reruns in syndication.
CBS has an extensive library of shows, including some produced by Paramount before that business split off as part of Viacom Inc. Many of the shows don't require an All Access subscription, but if you do subscribe you get more of these classics — all without ads. Alas, I already have a long Netflix queue of classics I want to watch, along with bookshelves of entire series on DVD.
Fans of the reality TV show "Big Brother" will have round-the-clock access to cameras to watch contestants sleep, eat and fight, something CBS charged $24 for this year for the full summer season.
SO, WILL I KEEP IT?
As currently designed, I don't see myself renewing. That might change if CBS starts making shows available on streaming-TV devices such as Apple TV and Fire TV, the way Hulu does with its $8-a-month subscription. Currently, All Access requires a Mac or Windows computer or an Apple or Android mobile device.
I might also find the service worth it if CBS starts offering recording capabilities. That way, I won't have to wait until the next morning, or rush to get home either. (As it is, I can't even watch part of a show and have CBS remember my spot when I return.)
It does appear that CBS is looking for ways to expand its service. What's being offered now is just a start and will likely grow over time.
CBS Corp. announced All Access just a day after HBO said it would offer its HBO Go online service without requiring a cable or satellite TV subscription. Meanwhile, ESPN and the National Basketball Association have agreed to develop a stand-alone Internet offering. Prices haven't been announced.
The future is looking good for those without cable. But already, fees for these various services are adding up. Netflix costs $9 a month, and Hulu Plus another $8. Amazon's annual membership comes out to $8.25 a month. Each service has enough exclusive content to make it difficult to pick only one.
Wouldn't it be nice if CBS could simply join Hulu, which already carries NBC, ABC and Fox?
As I think about it, I realize I'm advocating the cable bundle: One price for more channels and shows than I can ever hope to watch. But the difference here is choice. I don't have to buy the NBA package if I hate basketball. Or I can drop one service for a few months while catching up on shows through a rival.
Ultimately, I don't mind paying more for online TV — as long as I'm the one deciding to do that.