CBS’s Streaming Experiment

CBS is in the middle of an experiment. Less than a month ago the network premiered “The Good Fight”, the follow-up show to their successful “The Good Wife” which had ended. While this seems like a normal move by a network in order to capitalize off of one show’s success, it has been the method of distribution that has been different. “The Good Fight” has new episodes released once a week but on CBS All-Access, the channel’s online streaming service.

This is a first for CBS. Sensing this shift in the television viewing audience to a more on-demand style of consuming shows, it is a forward-thinking move by one of America’s top networks. However, this experiment will bring us closer to the answer of some of streaming’s most puzzling questions.

Weekly or Binge

Binge-watching shows has been something that has become common-place in our culture. This is mostly due to Netflix and initially dealt with watching older shows that had gone off the air or catching up on past seasons.

However, as Netflix has begun to create their own programming the occurrence with which they should deliver it, is somewhat of an unsolved mystery.

Currently, they release an entire season at once, allowing for people to consume the show in large chunks. Once a year, there is the new episodes for the show and people watch them all in a row in a short period of time and then move on.

This approach creates a complicated result. By releasing them all at once, the show has the ability to capture their large audience for an intense, albeit short, time frame. This level of interest in a show by a wide audience is unparalled. Although, this quickly dies out after everyone has seen the latest season and moves on.

Then it becomes a question of if the audience will return. The appeal of binge-watching is that all the episodes are consumed and then there is none left so the person moves on and usually doesn’t go back.

By releasing seasons once a year though, it is requiring that the audience will continually return to watch that show. While this has seen varied success over the course of two or three seasons of shows, there has yet to be a large number of programs that have had their full lifespan on streaming. Most Netflix originals are in their early seasons so it has not been determined if this binge approach will work.

In CBS’s case, they are opting for a traditional TV format by releasing an episode once a week. This spreads the audience’s interest out over a long period of time and requires a person to follow it throughout the course of a season and wait for new episodes rather than instantly watching the next.

The best answer as to which one will become the norm, is that there will be no conventional way. For shows that have an older audience such as “The Good Fight”, a weekly episode release might be more desirable since it caters to that demographic’s viewing patterns. While for programs that are aimed at a younger age range, the binge concept might prove more effective since they are more comfortable with that style.

Platform of Distribution

For CBS, they are releasing “The Good Fight” on their own CBS All-Access plan that costs viewers either $5.99/month for “Limited Commercials” or $9.99/month for “Commercial Free”.

This is different than many networks who have opted to make their shows free on their websites but jam pack each episode with ads.

As more cable-cutting options become prevalent (Playstation Vue, Sling TV, YouTube TV) this question may not be as important, but do networks need to start charging for their online service of on-demand shows?

That paid option would only seem to make sense for channels that offer exclusive content on their website but even then, one would imagine that someone would eventually bundle all of those subscriptions into one place. Whether that’s Netflix, Hulu, or a completely new service, if big networks start releasing digital-only content and charge a price, viewers will not tolerate a plethora of payments to different providers.

Looking Forward

This season of “The Good Fight” will be incredibly important for CBS. It could be the determiner for if the network does a digital-only show again in the near future. It could set the foundation for the way a channel would make a digitally exclusive show profitable.

Curently, the industry is watching how a spin-off TV show could redefine the landscape for America’s largest television networks.

Jackson Neill