CBS All Access Review: What’s This Streaming Service Worth?

You may have heard about CBS All Access when the new Star Trek show, available only on that service, first launched. The app is a unique approach to streaming, and we’re reviewing CBS All Access, the service, to see just how good it is.

Streaming services like HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Hulu are pretty easy to understand: They offer a wide variety of content, movies and shows for you to keep up on the latest entertainment, some created by them and some licensed from other networks, etc.

CBS All Access is part of a new crop of streaming services that forgo this model and offer only their own content (some when they launch some when it doesn’t) – in this case, the CBS shows that the network wants to stream. But how does this approach work, specifically with CBS content? Is it a worthwhile service to add to your streaming list, or is not worth the monthly cost?

We took a look. Here’s what we found.

CBS All Access Review

Pros

  • Original content you can’t find anywhere else: CBS offers original content on All Access, notably Star Trek: Discovery. However, CBS does have a few other original shows and is planning for more in the future.
  • Access to old shows: CBS All Access provides access to many classic shows that are hard to find elsewhere, including the Brady Bunch, the original Hawaii Five-O, the original MacGyver, and so on – a great bonus for those who love the classics.
  • Clean, usable interface: All Access may have its issues, but the interface isn’t one of them. It’s friendly, easy to use, and fairly speedy.
  • Live TV: CBS makes the most of All Access by offering Live TV viewing if you’re away from your home TV.

Cons

  • Questionable pricing: $6, with commercials, is pretty steep for what CBS All Access offers, unless you’re a big CBS fan or absolute need to watch that new Star Trek when each new episode comes out.
  • You can’t count on your favorite shows being available: For both current and past shows, CBS appears to have random rules about how many episodes to make available on All Access. Some very popular shows only get a season or so out of multiple seasons. Some shows aren’t available at all.
  • Many shows are available on Hulu: When it comes to current CBS shows, you can find many of them on Hulu for just a couple bucks more, plus access to a vast array of other shows and movies many times what CBS can provide. All Access doesn’t do well on the competition front.
  • Glitches: Network streaming services aren’t the most stable apps around, and CBS All Access seems particular prone to freezing up, and then making you watch all the commercials you just saw again. These glitches appear to have gotten a bit better in recent months, but may still happen.

CBS All Access Features

Naturally, content is limited to CBS, which may be all you need to make up your mind. It wasn’t for us, hence our review. But how that content is limited is also important, so we’re going to review and evaluate the main categories of shows available on All Access.

Current CBS All Access Shows: CBS offers a number of its current network TV shows, including past seasons, to search through and watch as you want. This is a nice feature for getting caught up on shows you like, but it’s also very hit or miss – you may not be getting everything you want.

For example there’s only 24 Big Bang Theory episodes out of the many seasons of the show, making it harder to catch up or introduce friends.

Some popular shows, like 2 Broke Girls, aren’t on the service at all. These are weird, disappointing choices that make it seem like CBS doesn’t really want people watching All Access if they could be forced to watch network TV instead. It’s also important to note

Past CBS Shows: You can also find a number of older CBS classic shows and shows that were canceled some time ago, which makes All Access a nice place to find your old favorites. That includes Cheers, 90210, a couple of the CSIs, Frasier, and the classic Hawaii Five-O. That’s cool, and adds a lot more value to the service.

However, here too episodes are very unreliable. You may get all the episodes of Hawaii Five-O and Jericho, but only a portion of the 90201 or Brady Bunch episodes, for reasons that just aren’t clear.

Original content: In other words, content that’s only available on All Access, and not even available on the traditional CBS TV network. That means Star Trek Discovery for most people. CBS does have other original content, including The Good Fight, Strange Angel, and No Activity. You probably haven’t heard about those, because no one really cares about them yet. Star Trek is the main selling point here for now.

CBS is working to include other shows like a new The Twilight Zone which might make their original content more worthwhile in the future.

Live TV

You can watch live tv! Self-explanatory. Limited only to CBS, live tv of course.

Movies

CBS also offers a collection of movies available to watch as well. It’s pretty random – you get Pink Panther, Bullet Proof Monk, and Hotel Rwanda, all in the same section. There’s only 20 or so of these movies, and they aren’t really a deciding factor for the service unless CBS really, really expands the list in coming years.

Special events

This refers to all the big events that CBS will cover, like the Grammys. You typically get the ability to watch these events live or catch on them afterward if you were busy.

CBS All Access Pricing

CBS All Access offers a basic two-tier pricing structure.

  • The standard fee is $5.99 a month, and that includes commercials with all your shows.
  • The premiere tier is $9.99 a month, and doesn’t have any commercials at all. There’s no way to get CBS All Access free except for a brief free trial offerings (the free trial lasts exactly 1 week).

Here we see one of the biggest problems with these single-network streaming services: they just don’t have enough content to be worth the price of admission.

During our review, we also discovered that for an equivalent price, you can get access to exponentially more shows in a wide variety of styles and target audiences, all without commercials – or with limited commercials, in Hulu’s case. And, frankly, access to shows like Game of Thrones or Stranger Things that are a bigger part of the zeitgeist than anything on CBS (depending on your feelings about Big Bang Theory).

That makes it hard to justify paying this much for only shows from CBS. If you are a diehard CBS fan, then you’ve probably seen a lot of their past content, so historical shows won’t be much good for you. That means you’re primarily paying to catch up on current shows, which is a tough sell. If you don’t much care for CBS and only want to watch a show or two on All Access, it’s an even worse deal.

This is why All Access membership goes up for events like The Grammys. People are willing to pay a one-time fee to see a big event in real time (similar to Boxing/MMA views), but then they just cancel afterward (or they just get the 1-week trial and then cancel). This doesn’t say good things about service longevity.

Finally, check out the pricing for comparative services for on demand service to see where this $6/$10 pricing falls:

  • HBO: $15 per month:
  • Hulu: $8 per month with ads, $12 without
  • Netflix: $8 to $14 per month, depending on resolution quality you choose
  • ESPN+: $5 per month
  • DirecTV Now: $35 per month
  • Amazon Prime Video: $11 per month or with Prime subscription
  • Acorn (British shows): $5 per month
  • Fox Network: Free, with limited episodes
  • ABC Network: Free, with limited episodes
  • NBC Network: Free, with limited episodes
  • The CW and Original CW Seed Content: Free

CBS All Access Review Conclusion

Well, how big of a Star Trek fan are you? On a serious note, content does have different values based on user loyalty. If you are a HUGE Star Trek fan and demand to see the new show ASAP, then paying $6 per month for the ability may not seem like a huge leap for you. The same is true if you’ve been longing to watch old CBS shows from several decades ago and can’t find a good DVD set anywhere.

However, if you don’t have this loyalty for any CBS All Access original content, we can’t really recommend buying this service. It doesn’t offer much, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to offer more in the future.

Plus – and this is particularly damning – networks like Fox, ABC, NBC, and The CW offer similar streaming apps with collections of current and past shows (including original content), somewhat limited based on your subscription choices but all for free. Why is CBS charging a fee? It certainly doesn’t look good in comparison.

On that note, keep in mind that you don’t have to go directly to CBS to get All Access. In other words, other services can bundle CBS All Access into the content you already stream from them, on their platform.

If you love Roku, you can find CBS All Access Roku there. If you’re a big Amazon Prime fan, you can buy it through Amazon Prime and watch the content there. The pricing remains the same, but you don’t have to add another app if you don’t want to.

CBS All Access Review: What’s This Streaming Service Worth? is available on Gadget Reviews

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