CBS Announces New Ad-Free More-Expensive Streaming Service…That Includes Ads

from the subtract dept

Some terrestrial TV stations and cable stations are better at internet-ing than others. While Netflix has built an empire upon streaming ad-free shows, for instance, other services like Hulu have gone the route of a tiered structure, with a price point for streaming with ads and one for streaming without ads. One of the interesting things is seeing other traditional broadcast networks watch how these models play out and then go about offering their own. Take CBS, for instance. It’s very clear that CBS is enamored with the idea of streaming its content advertising free, but likes Hulu’s tiered structure better than that of Netflix.

At CBS’ site, you can see that it is now offering two tiers of its “All Access” platform. The existing service is offered with “Limited Commercials”, while a service that costs $4 more is labeled “Commercial Free.” I’d like to focus on the commercial free offering for a moment, because it’s a bold step that includes giving viewers a way to stream CBS shows “commercial free”, except where there are both commercials and where CBS is choosing to call “commercials” by the term “promotional interruptions” instead.

There are some caveats to CBS’ “commercial-free” option. CBS isn’t spending much time highlighting these asterisks, but they tell you interesting things about the TV ecosystem in 2016:

-If you stream a CBS show live, when it first airs, you’ll still see ads — the same ones you’d see on conventional TV, depending on the local TV market you’re in.

-CBS says “select on-demand shows will include promotional interruptions.” I talked to a CBS rep for a translation: The “promotional interruptions” will be brief, but un-skippable, promos — 15 seconds at most, and no more than two promos per half-hour — for other CBS shows. They’ll show up in about 10 percent of CBS’ episodes, and about 20 percent of its titles — generally its newer shows. That’s because CBS has sold on-demand rights to some of those shows to subscription services like Amazon or Netflix, and in some cases those services have exclusive rights to an ad-free “window” for those shows.

It appears CBS has been taking its cues from the mobile network industry, which absolutely loves calling its plans “unlimited”, even though they are very much limited. In this case, the streaming service is “advertising free”, except for all the ads on live shows and all of the promotional interruptions on streaming the older library. I had once thought that coming up with new business models to appeal to the public was hard. Turns out it’s not! You just have to call one thing by another name and insist the entire world play make believe!

The folks over at Recode appear to think that CBS doesn’t even really want people to use this option.

The big picture is that CBS is still very much in the advertising business, and will be for a very long time. So it is presumably betting that the ad-free option will only be interesting to a subset of its All Access subscribers, who are a small subset of its total audience.

It’s breathtaking in its cynicism. CBS decides to claim a service is something it isn’t while hoping most customers don’t use it or want it and instead use the other level of service. It’s an insight into how the company sees its viewers, as little more than money-levers waiting to be pulled in the right order to extract the maximum amount of revenue, regardless of whether it has to engage in double-speak and obfuscation in order to do so.

We at Techdirt want to play along with CBS on this sort of thing, which is why we’re proud to say that this post is offered to you vulgarity free! On an unrelated note, CBS’ advertising free offering is bullshit.

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Comments on “CBS Announces New Ad-Free More-Expensive Streaming Service…That Includes Ads”

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Anonymous Coward says:

CBS can rebrand ads as “promotional interruptions”, but consumers will still think of them as “ads”. And they’re going to be exceptionally pissed off when they see “ads” on a supposedly “ad-free” stream.

Assuming anyone even signs up for the service, anyway. It’s CBS, not Netflix or even Hulu. How much CBS content would even be worth watching in comparison to what’s on those services?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“How much CBS content would even be worth watching in comparison to what’s on those services?”

I’d assume the strategy would be to remove CBS content from competing services whenever that becomes viable. IIRC, the new Star Trek TV series due out next year will be a CBS exclusive in the US (though it will be on Netflix overseas).

The intention for a lot of these services seems to be that they’re jealous of the way Netflix have been able to both rake money in on licenced content and have successful original series. They want that action all to themselves, and still operate under the delusion that people care as much about the network name as they do the program title. So, they hope that once they get exclusive content on there, people will simply follow them and pay them whatever they want even if they are being openly deceived up front.

So, short term they look like liars and/or idiots. Long term, they will want to be taking their content away from Netflix and hope the users follow. It’s the same half-assed thinking that’s behind everything from exclusive content deal to regional licencing – it might sound good in theory, but in reality it just fragments the market, pisses off customers and encourages piracy.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Netflix has run ads for Netflix exclusives before other movies, and I’ve argued with people who insisted they weren’t ads because they’re for Netflix. So you can fool some people into watching commercials.

And if CBS put all their content going all the way back to the 1950s up for commercial-free streaming, I’d say that was worth a monthly payment. But that will never happen.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think I’ve only seen a video promo on Netflix once or twice, and I’m fairly sure it was after I finished watching a series, not before. (Usually for some spin-off of what I was watching, like finishing Jessica Jones and seeing a promo for Season 2 of Daredevil.) If something similar happens before movies, I haven’t seen it, but if I did, it wouldn’t bother me much, assuming they’re skippable like the promos I’ve seen . Part of why I subscribe to Netflix is for the content suggestions, so even if there’s a bit of “sponsored” suggestions going on, I would only be slightly annoyed.

The major difference (in my view) of what CBS is doing is having these unskippable promos run in the middle of what you’re watching. Having ads like that break the flow and trash immersion, which is what is annoying. I generally wouldn’t care if a 23-minute show takes 23 and a half minutes to watch. (Though I am annoyed that, due to TV airing constraints (read: ads), it’s not a 30-minute show.) Ads in the middle of the show drastically detract from its enjoyment, and ads in-between shows make bingeing more annoying. If you’re hurting for cross-promotion, just wait ’til the end of my watch queue, and show a window saying “Thank you for watching Foo, maybe you’ll be interested in checking out Bar?” I’ve just finished watching whatever it was I was interested, that’s the best time to catch my attention on something new.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Netflix was doing promos before movies, although it seemed to stop about the same time Hulu offered a commercial free option. Maybe they realized what a bad move it was.

As for recommendations, all I ever get is suggestions for Netflix originals, and I never watch them. Last night I watched Saving Private Ryan and afterwards it suggested the new Netflix show The Little Prince. I’ve rated thousands of movies and it’s worthless.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s because CBS has sold on-demand rights to some of those shows to subscription services like Amazon or Netflix, and in some cases those services have exclusive rights to an ad-free “window” for those shows.

Wait… So they actually can’t show their own shows ad-free because they’ve sold the rights to ad-free streaming to Netflix?
I… that’s…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s a good example of how far forward these companies are looking with their digital strategies (i.e. not past the next quarter). Clearly, whoever made the licencing deals did not consider the idea of first party ad-free streaming and it probably wasn’t even considered until Hulu showed it was a good idea. By then, it’s too late, but they still have to use the marketing speak they think will get the best results, even if it’s an obvious lie.

The amusing thing here is that the thing that’s stopping them from offering a truthfully ad-free service is licencing under the copyright system they so valiantly defend.

David says:

Now that's advertising! I mean, promotion!


*may include pork rinds by another name

I mean, seriously. It’s annoying enough having to read the small print on “fresh cheese product” in order to figure out whether they stuck boiled pig bones and skin in it (“gelatine”). I mean, “product” is of course the key phrase that should make you suspicious enough to read the small print.

So this is sort of an “ad-free streaming product” like those “fresh cheese products” are: it contains considerable amounts of ad-free streaming except where it doesn’t.

Jason says:

Well, it only makes sense...

Words mean whatever the person with something to sell wants them to mean, right?

— New Premium Nut-Free Bar (*contains fewer than 5 nuts per serving)

— Gluten-Free Waffles (*Note: waffles contain gluten)

— We Sell Only Conflict-Free Diamonds! (*Warning: diamonds were obtained from active conflict zone)

— Authentic Free Range Chicken (*chickens raised in shoeboxes within sight of outdoors)

ThatDevilTech (profile) says:

I've said it once and I'll say it again.....

Kodi/XBMC FTW. No ads, no commercials, I can watch whatever I want, when I want. Yes there’s a bit of a setup and some of the older, more obscure shows may not be out there but chances are they’re out there.

I can watch any live sport I want, from around the globe. No blackouts. No commercials. We haven’t had cable or satellite, other than for the Internet (cable), in about 4 years, maybe longer. I forget exactly. The only caveat is now our cable provider is doing the bs data capping. All because ONE customer used a huge amount in a m onth. We have a 500GB cap, but sometimes go over it with multiple Netflix/Youtube watchers in the house and Kodi running, plus regular Internet like Facebook and email.

Violynne (profile) says:

We can finally put to rest this ridiculous “ads are content” rhetoric, thanks to this article.

After all, if no one cared about content interrupting content, then this article should have been written with a positive attitude, not a negative one.

Cal it as you want, Mike, but the reality is no one enjoys content interrupting content, regardless how well they’re made.

The reality is this, and has been for some time: content is now interrupting the ad stream.

CBS just proved it. They pull this crap with their on-demand on cable, too, despite consumers paying for the channel.

If only companies would stop using advertising as a primary source of revenue, none of this would be an issue.

Oh dear …

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Um, no, none of what you wrote is either correct, nor was it the subject of this post (which I wrote, not Mike). The point of this post was that playing word games with customers is a shitty way to do business. It was not a comment on the quality of the ads that are still included in the ad-free service.

Good, informative, entertaining advertising most certainly IS content, and it can be captivating content when done correctly. I’m struggling to see how that’s even arguable….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

While I agree with you that adds might be content, there is a huge difference of the quality of content and add content pretty much stink.
For the last 20 years I don’t think I have seen an add where I thought “This is enjoyable”. I can mostly ignore product placement (some very bad cases can really disrupt a movie or tv-show) but real adds are always disruptive and annoying… to me at least.
The only thing an add will ever get from me is a count in a statistic that I viewed the content where the add was present. They will never get a click.

I guess it depends on how you view adds. Is “More games/movies/articles like this one” type, an add? If it is then I do respond to some of it.

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