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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.


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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