CBS Tests the Waters of Digital Content with “The Good Fight”

Last month’s premiere of CBS’s new drama “The Good Fight” was, by nearly all metrics, a success.

The show not only won its Sunday night time slot, but was also hailed by critics as a quality spin-off of its predecessor “The Good Wife.”

Despite the show’s success, viewers will  not be seeing the show on the their TVs anytime soon. In spite of its proven potential to be a network success, the rest of The Good Fight’s current season will be available exclusively online through the network’s streaming subscription-based platform, CBS All-Access.

Launched in 2014, CBS All-Access had been the network’s response to increasingly popular online streaming services, like Hulu and Amazon Prime. All-Access subscribers get unlimited access to CBS’s library of television programs, to watch with or without advertisements, depending on how much they pay. Streaming access with only limited commercial interruption costs $5.99 per month, while commercial free streaming costs $9.99 per month.

The Good Fight’s migration to the web is perhaps CBS’s most proactive tactic yet to get its network audience base online. The show is the first original program based on the service, and executives hope that the establish success of The Good Fight will entice viewers into subscriptions. A reboot of the long-running franchise “Star Trek” is also expected to join The Good Fight on CBS All-Access soon.

The creative expansion of All-Access is part of a much larger shifting focus of the media distribution industry, as more and more viewers move to on-demand television options. According to a recent study by the Consumer Technology Association, streaming service subscribers have, for the first time ever, matched the number of paid TV subscribers. As “millennial cord-cutters” eat away at networks’ audience base, the need to pivot away from traditional distribution pathways has become increasingly critical.

While CBS has long struggled to attract younger audiences to their viewer base, CEO Les Moonves is hoping the expansion of All-Access will help CBS to retain some of its audience.

“It’s not going to be a huge business, but it’s going to be for millennials, the cord-cutters, the cord-nevers,” said Moonves to Bloomberg TV in December.

CBS is also the first legacy broadcast network to actively pursue premium original online content. ABC has only dabbled in exclusively-online content creation; they’ve produced a variety of digital short comedy series under the banner of ABCd. NBC has left original content creation up to Hulu, the next-day streaming service they co-own with 21st Century Fox, Time Warner and the Walt Disney Corporation.

Meanwhile, shows created by online services like Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime have become powerhouse forces in the critical landscape, even dominating award shows in recent years. They have even knocked traditionally-broadcast shows out of the running. In fact, the last CBS program to be nominated for the best drama Golden Globe was “The Good Wife” back in 2011 (the last year any of the Big Three were nominated in the category).

While these awards may be seen by some as an outdated method of assessing success, they can still be influential in snagging viewers. According to CBS, a major driver of subscriptions for All-Access was the 2017 Grammy awards. As the live awards show was only available to stream for those with a standard cable subscription or an All-Access account, cord-cutters were prompted to sign up for CBS’ streaming service.

Thus far, CBS’s online venture has been a qualified success. In a closed event at UCLA in February, Moonves announced that both All-Access and CBS subsidiary Showtime had nearly 1.5 million paid subscribers. According to Variety editor Todd Spangler, such numbers would qualify as 50 percent growth for either service in the last six months.

Indeed, conversations around “streamability” play a large role in the networks’ strategic plan forward. These online-focused “skinny bundles” provide alternatives for viewers who don’t want to purchase traditional cable packages. Dish Network’s Sling TV and YouTube’s recently announced YouTube TV can be accessed on a wide range of devices and provide viewers more flexible selection over which channels they have access to. Hulu has also announced plans to move into the streaming space.

Under Moonves, CBS – which provides streaming access via it’s All-Access platform – has been generally selective as to which online services it agrees to. CBS will be accessible on Hulu and YouTube TV, but it’s currently unavailable on Sling TV and DirecTV Now.

While The Good Fight has prompted some digital success for CBS, the continued success of the network’s online ventures remains to be seen. Investors, however, seem to have faith, as CBS stock is currently at a five year high. If CBS can continue to play its cards right in the digital realm, it may soon find itself keeping up with online streaming titans, and cord-cutters may not see the last of CBS just yet.

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