It’s not surprising that CBS is touting its subscriber numbers for the last quarter. The company had a decent quarter in general, according to reports that were posted at Deadline Hollywood and other sites. CBS is making money to be sure, with all of its properties working the way they should.
But, it seems CBS Chair and CEO Leslie Moonves, never one to shy away from a microphone, is crowing loudest about CBS’ 5 million subscribers for its Showtime app and for All Access, its standalone streaming service that costs as much as Hulu and delivers precisely one channel (CBS.)
If I were Mr. Moonves I would be crowing too, since this is the last time for about a year that CBS will see that kind of number attached to its streaming service. I’m willing to bet that most people ponied up that $7 a month for one reason only — Star Trek Discovery — and that they won’t stick around and pay that amount while the show is on hiatus until April of 2019. I know I canceled the service literally the moment I finished watching the season finale.
CBS has run a fairly risky play with its All Access service. It’s banking on the idea that cord-cutters will pay to stream its top-rated broadcast programs and minimal original content, but let’s be honest — this isn’t the best time to be making that gamble. As this is an Olympics year, NBC is getting all of the attention right now, and with Big Bang Theory rightfully sailing off to the edges of the galaxy next year it’s hard to know if there’s a hit worth paying $7 a month for, especially since you can get ABC, NBC, FOX, and a whole lot of other stuff on Hulu for $7 a month.
I’m sure CBS would rather you compare its service to HBO NOW rather than Hulu. HBO has a massive catalog of original programming including the top program on TV (when it airs), Game of Thrones. There are literally decades of material available on the HBO apps plus an ongoing stream of new movies and specials from Time Warner and Warner Brothers studios that is guaranteed to stay there for a long time. HBO NOW is expensive, but it backs up that price with a ton of stuff. In contrast, CBS All Access has very little original programming and a limited selection of enticing older programs. It’s nowhere near an apples to apples comparison.
So the real question isn’t, will CBS lose subscribers next quarter, it’s how many subscribers will they lose. Half? More? I don’t know. I think the $7 price might be low enough that people don’t bother to cancel, but on the other hand a lot of people were pretty annoyed by having to pay it in the first place and even canceled their subscriptions during the 2-month break when Discovery wasn’t airing. In fairness CBS delivered ten hours of very high quality content that looked as good as any movie, and I was willing to pay for it somewhat grudgingly. But I’m not willing to pay for nothing. I bet a lot of folks feel the same.