At Three, CBS All Access Fights the Good Fight

As CBS All Access hit its third anniversary last week, the streaming platform is taking on a unique challenge: launching a show with few, if any, built-in fans. While All Access has had noisy launches for The Good Fight, as The Good Wife spinoff is known, and Star Trek: Discovery, rookie comedy No Activity does not bring fans of the franchise to the CBS digital platform.

The Funny or Die series, which counts Will Ferrell and Adam McKay among its executive producers, launches Nov. 12. Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer of CBS Interactive, referred to the cop comedy as “an experiment” at the Next TV Summit last week. “These guys are great comedians,” he said of its creators. “They know how to write, how to shoot, how to make things incredibly funny.”

The Good Fight debuted Feb. 19 and Star Trek: Discovery, after delays, arrived Sept. 24. Both enjoyed a premiere on the CBS broadcast network. The Star Trek pilot had 10-11 million viewers on CBS. “It’s been a great driver for us,” said DeBevoise. “There’s been a ton of interest, a ton of buzz.”

Rob Owen, TV critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, admits to “very mixed feelings” about the Star Trek spinoff. “I’m a longtime Star Trek fan,” he said. “I’m not completely sold.”

He’s more emphatic about The Good Fight, saying his passion for The Good Wife has smoothly shifted to the spinoff. “They’ve found a way to evolve that show, and keep a lot of the great things about the original show while adding new things,” said Owen. “I think it’s one of the more seamless continuations/spinoffs I’ve ever seen done.”

Owen gives CBS high marks for being in the streaming game, while its broadcast competition mostly points to an ownership stake in Hulu as its OTT play. “I think they’re ahead of the game in terms of broadcasters,” said Owen.

CBS All Access costs $5.99 per month for the commercialized stream, and $9.99 for no commercials. The average age of its users is 43, DeBevoise said. He described them as both superfans who want more of CBS, and some of the 30 million people who don’t subscribe to pay TV. “We’re going after the cord-cutters and the cord-nevers,” he said.

CBS All Access offers more than 9,000 episodes, including current series and classics. The service also streams the NFL, which it had not in previous seasons. “We’ve seen tremendous uptake on that,” said DeBevoise.

Premium Programming

DeBevoise mentioned FX and AMC as being in All Access’ peer group. With an ad model, he noted, CBS All Access isn’t directly competing with the HBOs and Showtimes of the world. “Premium basic cable—we’re in that sort of zone for advertisers,” he said.

CBS All Access offers network executives a peek at how CBS shows perform in the streaming world. DeBevoise mentioned how The Good Wife was the 11th best rated show on the network, but was third on All Access. That made it a logical choice to reboot on the digital platform. “Some fans felt like The Good Wife ended too early,” he said.

Speaking to the Next TV crowd, DeBevoise said CBS would soon launch another OTT product, dedicated to sports news.

CBS All Access premiered October 2014, a few weeks before digital news network CBSN debuted. DeBevoise admitted launching both at the same time was “a bad idea,” but three years later sees plenty of upside in the streaming world.

“Our whole digital business,” he said, “is effectively the younger version of our television network.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.