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Just like Netflix and Hulu, now CBS will let you watch its shows online without ads

Actually, it’ll still have a few ads. And it will cost you, of course.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

CBS will let people watch its newest shows online, without watching ads — if they’re willing to pay up.

CBS is rolling out a (mostly) ad-free version of its CBS All Access digital TV service, which gives subscribers the ability to watch CBS programming live and on demand.

All Access normally costs $5.99 per month, but CBS is selling a “commercial-free” option for $9.99.

That brings CBS in line with Hulu, which launched an ad-free version of its service last year that also cost an extra $4 a month. And Netflix, of course, shows all of its programming without ads.

There are some caveats to CBS’ “commercial-free” option. CBS isn’t spending much time highlighting these asterisks, but they tell you interesting things about the TV ecosystem in 2016:

  • If you stream a CBS show live, when it first airs, you’ll still see ads — the same ones you’d see on conventional TV, depending on the local TV market you’re in.
  • CBS says “select on-demand shows will include promotional interruptions.” I talked to a CBS rep for a translation: The “promotional interruptions” will be brief, but un-skippable, promos — 15 seconds at most, and no more than two promos per half-hour — for other CBS shows. They’ll show up in about 10 percent of CBS’ episodes, and about 20 percent of its titles — generally its newer shows. That’s because CBS has sold on-demand rights to some of those shows to subscription services like Amazon or Netflix, and in some cases those services have exclusive rights to an ad-free “window” for those shows.

So: Mostly ad-free, for an extra $4 a month.

The big picture is that CBS is still very much in the advertising business, and will be for a very long time. So it is presumably betting that the ad-free option will only be interesting to a subset of its All Access subscribers, who are a small subset of its total audience.

This summer, CEO Les Moonves said the digital service had about a million subscribers; he had previously promised to get it to four million by 2020. CBS launched All Access in October 2014.

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