CBS All Access: Big Dud Theory

I am trying to create my own a la carte TV service. Even though I keep shrinking my cable package, I am still forced to pay for dozens of channels that my family never watches. That’s not hyperbole – we NEVER watch them, not even for one second. Oxygen? Yawn. C-SPAN? Is that still a thing? MTV? CSPAN is edgier and more interesting. But I still pony up each month to have them delivered to my TV.

As a result, I now subscribe to almost every streaming alternative available so that I can watch only the shows I want, when I want to watch them. Netflix? Got it. Hulu Plus? Probably my favorite. Amazon Prime? Do not sleep on Red Oaks, it was last year’s most underrated show. HBO GO? Rocky start but improving. While my cable provider still makes me pay for bad tv that I don’t watch, they also happen to be one of the top ISPs in the country, so I can actually stream 4K without any problems.

Last weekend I broke down and decided to try CBS All Access so that we could catch up on some shows now that we’ve ditched our DVR (I now equate a DVR to that huge VHS tape machine that your teacher used to wheel into the classroom on an AV cart). To quote the award-winning journalistic veterans at Buzzfeed, what I saw was jaw dropping. CBS All Access is the most broken streaming service I have ever had the misfortune of using. Or trying to use.

First things first: CBS is not upfront about which shows are actually available for streaming. I was stunned that not only was there just a handful of the current season’s episodes of Big Bang Theory available, they were in a non-sequential hodgepodge that didn’t make any sense. Person of Interest, which is currently airing new episodes, didn’t even include half of the current season – a “season” that is only a month old! If we held CBS to “truth in advertising,” their service should be called CBS Limited Access or maybe CBS Mostly Old Shows Like Nash Bridges That Nobody Wants To Watch.

Oh, and finding your shows? Also a huge hassle. CBS All Access is a masters class in bad user interface. Their old shows (the original Odd Couple from the 1970s, for example) are displayed before many current programs (including the aforementioned Person of Interest – which is airing new shows!). Plus, as far as I can tell, there’s no obvious way to display the shows I am currently watching (I have added them to something called “My CBS,” but I can’t find where these programs are displayed anywhere. I feel like it may just be a cruel joke played by the programmers.).

Finally, playback is an almost unwatchable, stuttering, choppy, jumpy disaster. I haven’t seen streaming video playback this poor for five years. Remember, my inexpensive smart TV and award-winning ISP combine for silky smooth 4k playback via Netflix, but CBS All Access looks like a sad Fall Out Boy video via YouTube from 2006 on the very same connection.

At least it’s cheap, right? CBS All Access is only $6 a month, but I find it tremendously irritating that each program is still packed with commercial breaks. There is talk that CBS is going to offer a $10 package that eliminates ads, but trust me – I will be long gone by then.

In fact, my recommendation to you is that you skip this service all together unless you value the ability to watch CBS live (is that you dad?). At least wait until they get their technology straightened out. However, considering that CBS All Access is already more than a year old, I feel like a culture of ongoing improvement is probably not in the cards.

C’mon CBS – the #1 on-air network can do better. Unless you’ve decided that your aging demographic (and they are definitely aging) just doesn’t care about streaming. In which case, I’ll see you later. If you want me, I’ll be with the young kids watching what we want, when we want to watch it.