CBS started its own streaming video service in 2014. With the launch of Star Trek Discovery, its popularity soared. With even more original content on the way, is CBS All Access now a must-have streaming service? Check out our CBS All Access Review to see what you can get now.
What Is CBS All Access?
Most of the traditional broadcast networks took the easy way out with their streaming strategies: if you have a cable subscription, you can live-stream your local station. CBS took a different approach by setting up its own over-the-top streaming service.
All Access is an ad-supported subscription service for CBS’s broadcast content. You get on-demand access to the latest episodes of CBS’ hottest TV shows, as well as over 9,000 episodes from the network’s sixty-year back catalog. Sports fans will appreciate getting local streams of NFL games, pro golf tournaments, and the NCAA Basketball Tournament. CBS also develops subscriber-only content including spinoffs of Big Brother, The Good Wife, and Star Trek.
That approach seems to have gone well since its launch in 2014. CBS All Access reached 8 million subscribers in mid-2020, which was 2 years ahead of its goal. It also wants to have over 20 million subscribers by 2025.
What accounts for that success? People like it. CBS has aired five of the ten most popular TV shows on broadcast or cable TV. The Big Bang Theory took the top spot followed by NCIS. The other top performing shows included Bull, Blue Bloods, and Thursday Night Football. The service is also drawing in huge crowds with targeted original content, including Star Trek: Discovery, a Twilight Zone reboot, and an upcoming Star Trek series staring The Next Generation’s Captain Picard reprising his role.
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It’s easy to write CBS All Access off as just one more OTT streaming service you don’t need. But if you’re a fan of some of the original content the service is producing, it makes a very compelling case to sign up. Combined with a comparatively low-cost entry price, and you’ll find the service may be one to add to your (probably too large) library of streaming services.
That you can add CBS All Access as a channel on Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV Channels is a plus, since it puts the service in a more streamlined and accessible format. You may find yourself having to use that option, however, as most of the services’ apps have very poor ratings. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with a headache-inducing amount of buffering and freezing, even with a good internet connection.
There’s a good chance you’ll love CBS All Access for its content. There’s also a chance you’ll find some things to strongly dislike about the service.
- Low-cost options. You can get CBS All Access for just $5.99 per month.
- Large content library. CBS All Access offers 10,000 TV show episodes and some movies, which is more than many other services of its kind.
- A huge draw for original content. Obtaining the rights to Star Trek and Twilight Zone were huge boons for this service and the only place you’ll get the new shows in the US.
- Wide app library. Considering some other services lack much device support, CBS All Access makes itself nicely available.
- Discount for students. It’s unusual for a streaming service to offer demographic-specific discounts, but you can get a 25% discount if you’re a student.
- Too much buffering. The streaming experience through CBS All Access can be a pain with so much buffering for on-demand and live content.
- Some videos completely freeze up. This was something that should never happen and is worse than buffering.
- Too many ads. If you opt for the “limited commercials” plan at $5.99, you’ll start wondering just how they’re defining “limited”.
CBS provides two subscription tiers to its streaming service:
7-Day Free Trial
10K+ episodes on-demand
CBS All Access Originals
Watch CBS & CBSN live
2 Simultaneous streams
7-Day Free Trial
10K+ episodes on-demand
CBS All Access Originals
Watch CBS & CBSN live
2 simultaneous streams
You can also get an add-on subscription to CBS-owned Showtime.
CBS All Access Limited Commercials – For $5.99-per-month, ads appear at the beginning of each on-demand TV stream and several times during the stream. (We’ll talk more about advertising later on.)
CBS All Access Commercial Free – CBS removes the advertising from all but “select” on-demand TV video streams at its $9.99-per-month premium level.
In both cases, live local streams have all of the ads from the regular over-the-air broadcast. Annual plans at both levels will give you twelve months for the price of ten. The service also offers a 25% discount for students, which can be verified if you have a .edu email address.
The streaming quality through CBS All Access is not consistent. I experienced significant issues one afternoon while streaming an episode of Hawaii Five-O. It took five to ten seconds for the video to buffer. Ten minutes into the episode the video bitrate suddenly dropped to 480p and audio dropped from surround sound to mono. It took a full seventy seconds for the quality to improve.
Then one night I was halfway through Star Trek Nemesis when the video froze while the audio continued. Canceling playback didn’t work and neither did turning the Apple TV off and turning it on again. It is possible that there were issues with my cable service, but nothing was wrong with my Netflix stream that I tested out at the same time.
Test the quality thoroughly at different times on different days during your free trial to make sure you don’t run into these issues. There’s some good stuff on CBS All Access you might want to watch, but there’s no point in paying if the streams don’t deliver.
Mixed Live Streaming Support
Local streamers might be out of luck. CBS blacks out its live stream in about fifty markets that cover about 10% of the US population. Check the support page for the markets that do get CBS live streams.
The problem is that CBS only owns sixteen of the local affiliate stations. The other stations are independently owned, with their own contracts for local programming and reruns. Those contracts may have been written years ago before streaming content was a thing. The local stations have to renegotiate those contracts and get their suppliers’ approval before CBS All Access can carry the local stream.
In the meantime, subscribers in those black-out markets still get the latest episodes on-demand. They won’t get local news or weather, but the bigger issue is sports. CBS only streams sports through the local live feed. No local stream, no football.
CBS put a lot of work into making CBS All Access available on pretty much any device you want. A key method to do this is by making the service available through Amazon Prime Channels and Apple TV Channels. Both are streamlined options that provide multiple services with one interface. That said, there are numerous standalone apps available for most devices you might want to use.
You can use CBS All Access with all of the following devices:
- TV streaming media players: Apple TV (2nd gen and up), Android TV (all gens), Amazon Fire devices (all gens), Chromecast (2nd gen and up) and Roku TV, Vizio Smart TV (select models)
- Smart TVs: Amazon Fire TV (all gens), Android TV (Sony Bravia, miBox, and select models), Samsung TV (select models), and Roku (firmware 8.0 and up).
- Mobile devices and tablets: Android OS, iOS, and Windows 10 (tablets)
- Game consoles: Xbox One and PlayStation 4
- Desktop browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge are recommended (most recent versions will work)
- Smart home devices: Amazon Alexa (voice controls only), Google Home (voice controls only)
CBS All Access on Roku
The CBS All Access app is available through the Roku Channels Store. The app will work on most Roku versions, including Roku TV and Roku LT. The app has a 3.4 out of 5 stars on in the Roku Channels Store.
CBS All Access on Fire TV Stick
You can download the ESPN app on Amazon Fire TV devices. The app has a 3.3 out of 5 stars on the Amazon Fire TV App Store. The top-rated review sums up what we’ve already said about the app: “Very effective – Highly annoying”. That said, most reviews and especially most negative reviews are over two years old. ESPN has fixed many issues with the app since then.
CBS All Access on Apple TV
The CBS All Access app is available for the Apple TV. You’ll find it in the app store as the CBS – Full Episodes & Live TV app. The app will work on Apple TV 2nd Generation and above.
CBS All Access on iPhones and iPads
If you have a device running iOS 11 or higher, you can install the CBS – Full Episodes & Live TV app. The app has a 4.4 out of 5 rating on iTunes, but it also has a large number of recent negative reviews. Users have been complaining about poor functionality with the app, including freezing videos and videos that don’t load properly.
CBS All Access on Android Phones and Tablets
You can use CBS All Access on devices running Android 5.0 or above. The app is available through Google Play, but it has a rather abysmal 1.7 out of 5 stars. Most reviews are consistent about a poor-quality streaming experience through the app.
CBS is driving subscription growth by creating original content that only subscribers can access. The network kicked things off with Big Brother Over The Top last year. This year it shifted to scripted entertainment by producing spin-offs of two popular series.
The service currently boasts a library of 10,000 TV episodes, although it doesn’t state how many movies are also available, or how many TV shows are there. However, that content is most of the company’s content library.
The on-demand catalog is deep but inconsistent. You can watch more than three hundred episodes of NCIS, for example, but you can only watch seven episodes of The Big Bang Theory. In most cases, this comes down to whether CBS produced the show (so you get all the episodes) or some other company did (so you don’t).
You can watch classic TV shows like the original Hawaii Five-O, The Brady Bunch, and Cheers. Classic TV fans will notice that Cheers originally aired on NBC and The Brady Bunch was an ABC show. You’ll also be missing CBS-broadcast icons like The Honeymooners, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Bob Newhart Show. Nobody ever said TV licensing deals made sense.
This service has a lot of must-see original content, as well. It’s the only place you’ll be able to catch Star Trek Discovery, the upcoming Star Trek Picard series, and the new Twilight Zone remake featuring Jordan Peele.
For the on-demand side of things, CBS takes a light approach with ads. Movies-watchers don’t see them, but subscribers at the “Limited Commercial” level will get ads during on-demand TV episodes. A sixty-second commercial leads off every stream.
More ads will run during the show. Five ninety-second ad breaks appear during each one-hour episode. Once the ads start running, you lose the ability to fast forward. CBS removes most of the ads for subscribers at the “Commercial Free” level, although they reserve the right to include promotional spots during “select” programs.
This service comes with a lot of content on-demand, but no cloud DVR option. You cannot record any shows, but most live TV episodes (including some sports) will be available after they air.
CBS All Access Customer Support
If you’re having problems with your CBS All Access service, your starting point will be the knowledgebase. CBS has an extensive number of articles covering some common troubleshooting issues. The knowledgebase is searchable, but also has categories you can choose from.
If you can’t find your answer there, CBS offers customers support through email, phone, or social media chats from Facebook or Twitter.
We found you’ll get fast service through any of these, although email is the slowest with a few hours’ delay, while phone support is the fastest, but may not be the best if you’re like most people and dislike phone support.
The quickest and least frustrating experience is through social media chat support. The CBS All Access Help page on Facebook, for example, lets you send a message quickly through chat to a service member, or leave a comment on the page. There are no hours of availability posted, but we got a response back in under an hour.
Some subscribers using CBS All Access apps have complained about an inability to cancel. For best results, you need to use cancel through a web browser. You can cancel CBS All Access in 5 steps:
- Log in to CBS All Access and go to “Account”
- Click on “Cancel Subscription” under the “Subscription & Billing” section
- Either select to get 1 more free month, or select “No Thanks”
- Check the “I understand…” box in the pop-up, and then select “Yes, cancel my subscription”
- Select a reason for canceling, then select “Complete Cancellation”
CBS All Access Refund Policy
CBS All Access does not offer a refund on your service. You can, however, continue to use the service for the remainder of the paid-for period. That includes those who opted for the yearlong subscription.
However, CBS does state in its refund policy that it might provide refunds in rare circumstances but doesn’t state what circumstances may necessitate that.
CBS All Access is a solid over-the-top streaming service with a respectable selection of on-demand and live content. The real issue is that this is yet another $6-per-month hit on the entertainment wallet. That is a lot of money to charge given how much of CBS’ programming you can get on other services. Additionally, given the service has poor streaming quality, it needs to do a better job making sure customers who sign up for the original content don’t feel abused in the process.