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At the dawn of the streaming renaissance, services like Netflix represented freedom, a way to cut your entertainment cost without sacrificing content. As time has gone by, the market has learned to adapt, with traditional content providers launching their own services. With so many to choose from, the market is getting cluttered. In 2014, CBS launched its own streaming service, CBS All Access. Is it worth adding to your entertainment bills each month? Here’s everything you need to know about the service–including information on free trials!
CBS All Access is a subscription streaming service in the spirit of Netflix and Hulu. The basic subscription includes access to 9,000-plus on-demand episodes of CBS content with ads playing during the episode. A more expensive ad-free version is also available.
CBS All Access lets users watch live TV in 174 markets. To see a complete list of where you can use the service, visit this website. If you live outside of the signal range of your local CBS station, this can be helpful for staying on top of local news. It’s all a major selling point for NFL fans who can watch games on the livestream, especially since you can use a Chromecast to put it on your big screen. CBS will update the page as more markets open up. During our tests, live TV streaming worked great and without lags.
CBS All Access can be viewed on a wide variety of devices, with support for Roku, Apple TV, Android and Android TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, select smart TVs, most gaming consoles, and CBS’ app is incredibly efficient, with HD streams across all devices.
Streaming on CBS is clean and easy to use, with crisp image quality and no buffering issues during our tests on iOS, PC, and Xbox One. We tested picture quality on a MacBook Pro and a 55-inch 4K TCL TV using a 100MB internet connection. In both cases, CBS All Access’ programming looked and sounded great.
In early January, Amazon added CBS All Access as an add-on for Amazon Prime members. It costs the same—$9.99 a month for the ad-free tier, with the $5.99 version to come later—but adding the channel via Amazon means you won’t have to deal with the hassle of another app. While Amazon has long offered premium channels like Starz and HBO, the addition CBS All Access is notable because its Amazon’s first foray into live TV streaming—and it comes just in time for the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery chapter 2 and the NFL playoffs.
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CBS All Access shows
The biggest draw for CBS All Access is the network’s massive library of shows. Launched in 1941, CBS has aired some of TV’s biggest hits and most important series of all time. CBS All Access brings more than 9,000 episodes of that content to your streaming device, a massive amount of programming to watch. From modern hits to classic TV, CBS All Access is hypothetically a dream come true for binge-watchers.
There’s just one problem: That legendary catalog is incomplete, and not just in the form of missing series. Due to licensing issues with its production companies some of CBS’s biggest hits, like Big Bang Theory and Two Broke Girls, only feature the seven most episodes of the shows.
It gets worse. Even classic series are missing episodes. Of JAG’s 227 episodes, only 83 are on the service. For The Odd Couple, only 78 of 114 episodes are available, and just 50 episodes of Taxi’s 114 run are available. There are plenty of full series around, but it’s a bummer to to pay for CBS All Access and then have to deal with incomplete episodes of a show that’s been off the air a decade. Heck, even I Love Lucy is missing episodes.
The issue is even more frustrating when it comes to serialized shows like Zoo. You can watch the current season of the show, but the first two seasons are streaming on Netflix. It makes more sense to just keep your Netflix subscription and wait for Zoo to come to the service. There are full series available, including the mega-hit NCIS, so all is not lost. But if CBS wants to tout its back catalog as a selling point, it would be nice if more of it was available.
CBS All Access also includes a small collection of movies—24 titles at the time of publication. Each selection is from the Paramount library, but it’s hard to consider that a selling point given how few titles out of Paramount’s thousands of films are available.
CBS All Access exclusive programming: Star Trek: Discovery
The biggest draw about CBS All Access is Star Trek: Discovery, which launched Sept. 24. It’s the first new Star Trek series in over a decade, and it stars Sonequa Martin-Green. Star Trek: Discovery is set 10 years before the Original Series and focuses on an escalating conflict with the Klingons.
The season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery aired on CBS, but viewers will need an All Access subscription to follow along after that. Episode 2 was made available immediately after the premiere aired on TV, and new episodes will appear weekly on All Access after that. (You can follow along with our Star Trek: Discovery coverage here.)
Following the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first episode, the network announced that it broke its record for most subscriber signups in a single day as fans signed up to watch the rest of the premiere (or watch it in full) on CBS All Access. The record was previously held by the 2017 Grammy Awards. (CBS did not release numbers on how many new subscribers CBS All Access had obtained.)
The Good Fight, a CBS All Access spin-off of the hit The Good Wife, has just been renewed for a second season. You can also watch 11 episodes of the reality spinoff Big Brother: Over the Top.
CBS All Access exclusive programming: Star Trek: Picard
The galaxy is massive, and the drama therein is worth at least two concurrent Star Trek shows. Star Trek: Picard goes where no previous Trek has gone before, by bringing back one of Starfleet’s most celebrated captains to helm this long-awaited new series. In the new series, which takes place after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and the destruction of Romulus in Star Trek (2009), Admiral Picard is finally leaving his cozy retirement to his family’s vineyard to once again travel the stars. In a darker, more tumultuous galaxy, Picard must once again save the Alpha Quadrant and perhaps save himself.
CBS All Access comes in two flavors, with commercials and without. The standard subscription costs $5.99 for streaming with ads, while the ad-free version will set you back $9.99 a month.
Does CBS All Access offer any add-on content?
You can add Showtime for $14.99 a month, which includes livestreaming of the network. At first, this seems like an added benefit, especially if you’re a cord-cutter. But Showtime is available on other streaming services for less, starting at $8.99 on both Hulu (and Hulu with Live TV) and Amazon.
Is CBS All Access worth it?
At the moment CBS All Access isn’t worth the cost of your subscription. Yes, its streaming is clean and clear. Sure, it has a great selection of shows available. The problem is there are already plenty of services that meet that criterion while also providing more options and better selection. CBS lacks exclusives, and when it is given time to shine by exploiting its back catalog, it only gives you pieces of it instead of the whole thing. It is possible, given the depth of Paramount and CBS’ library, that this service would be worth the money someday. Currently, it’s just too little for too much.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.