When (and Why) Did I Start Paying for CBS?

The broadcast TV business model has always been very simple.  Convince a large number of people to view your show at the same time and advertisers will pay a lot for the right to get their attention.

This is how TV was introduced in the 50’s and this is how all the networks still want you to behave in 2014.  Yet, human behavior has been radically changed by the quickening arrival of a fully connected world where video is often available to every screen, any time, anywhere. 

But how are the TV networks reacting to this change? Let’s take CBS as an example.

I grew up watching CBS.  I always saw the CBS evening news and Walter Cronkite was a regular presence in my life, even while in college. We used to call him “Uncle Walt”, as he felt like he was a member of the family. 60 Minutes was a regular weekly habit and so were CBS sports and prime time programs. Then along came the Internet.  Old habits die hard, but they do often die.

Today, I never watch the CBS evening news. Why?  Because by that time of the day I have already found out online what happened and don’t need to spend my time being told what I already know.  60 Minutes has faded away.  And then there is primetime programming. 

I am down to one show on CBS-The Good Wife. I never watch it when it is broadcast.  To do so, means I would have to take a full hour of my time and submit myself to an externally imposed schedule.  Who does that anymore? I watch it later on my DVR.  I see it when it suits me and it takes only 44 minutes as I speed through the commercials. I call this a double win.

However, a week ago, I made a mistake.  During football season, the starting times for The Good Wife often get pushed if games run over their time slot and you have to set your DVR to record the following show as well. I forgot to do so.  As a result I was able to see every part of the show, except for the last 5 minutes, which is of course when all the stories in the episode reveal their endings.  I can’t miss that!

Frantically I searched for the episode elsewhere.  First, I located it on the VOD channel that my cable company provides—but the controls that allow you to fast forward were disabled.  I could not give up another hour.  So I went to CBS.com and located the episode and sped through to the last few minutes.  Then I was force fed five commercials in a row before I could see the end of the show.  This was the least, best alternative, so I took it.  So the best CBS could do for me, was to exchange five commercials for five minutes of video.  CBS no longer felt like a loving member of my family.

And this is the problem-CBS does not care about your user experience.  They just want to maintain the old broadcast business model, come hell or high water.  Our habits have changed, but they refuse to recognize our new reality.

At a time where people are gaining greater control over their media experiences-CBS (as well as other networks) want to pull it back.  At a time when viewership of individual TV shows continues its long decline, one would think that networks would envelop their viewers with love. Instead, they withhold it and box us into an old paradigm.

Your response could be-yes, but if you don’t watch the commercials-how is CBS going to get paid for its programming? 

I am glad you asked.

Last fall, Time Warner Cable and CBS had a little spat and CBS won.  TWC now pays CBS $2 per month for each subscriber-for the right to carry CBS.  Actually it means that I pay the $2.  (Not that I have any say in the matter.) And this fee will probably go up every year.

So I pay CBS $24 per year for The Good Wife, a few football games and a couple of awards shows.  CBS has entered into a new relationship with me. It has become a pay TV subscription service—that coincidently comes with ads. That should give those of us who pay this fee the right to skip commercials when we watch CBS programming.

Why should I expect that?

I subscribe to Amazon Prime, HBO and Netflix.  I watch their programming whenever I want, on any device I want, without any commercial interruption.  They have all adapted to my new habits.

Once CBS morphed into a subscription service these services became its new competition.  That’s right-CBS competes with the Internet. It is time for CBS to create a user experience that caters to our new behaviors, our new habits. It is the only way it will successfully compete.

Perhaps it could even learn to love me again.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Mema Daisy

    I love this post. You are right Chris. TV networks should pay more attention to the changes and figure out how to adapt quickly.

    • chrisdorr

      Mema, thanks for your comment. And it will be fascinating to watch how TV networks adapt and their attempts (or non attempts) to do so. My guess is that it will continue to be very hard for them.

  • SCandler

    Great piece as always Chris. For a real eye opening read on how the cable systems work, especially with regard for carriage fees for sports, this is a great piece too. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/01/12/how-the-golden-age-of-television-and-baseball-ends.aspx

    • chrisdorr

      Sheri, Thanks for your comment. I have read this and I agree. Everyone should read, it is a fascinating read.