Another week, another premium streaming video service. To be accurate, the newly launched Paramount+ is the rebranded CBS All Access. As if it weren’t already confusing enough trying to keep up with the Disney, Apple TV and Discovery pluses of the world, now ViacomCBS has a dual-tiered direct-to-consumer streaming service to compete with the lot of ‘em, including the nonplussed NBC Peacock and HBO Max. I don’t know about anyone else, but CBS has a much more TV-friendly ring to it than Paramount.
I already had CBS All Access. Why, I’m not sure exactly, but my partner, Liz, tells me it was because of some sports event I could only get through that streaming video app. As the clock was counting down to a puck drop, a kickoff, or a tip-off, we ordered it in a live sports frenzy. She’s been paying $5.99 a month for that, which is ridiculous since we also have CBS via Verizon Fios. CBS is double-dipping us and it’s our own damn fault.
The former CBS All Access is targeted to cord-cutters, which we may become in July when our Verizon Fios contract ends. If we continue with the newly named Paramount+, we’re grandfathered in to the $5.99 plan which includes our local CBS channel, WCBS. After June, people will have a choice of $4.99, with ads and no local CBS station, or $9.99, with no ads and WCBS-TV. Either way, subscribers get a lot of Paramount movies and CBS TV shows, along with an overabundance of soccer, including from teams that will never cross my TV screen, the Slavia Praha and Dynamo Kyiv.
Sadly, I can’t get every NCAA basketball game I want. I found that out the hard way last weekend. I couldn’t get my alma mater, the Missouri State Bears, in their semifinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament Saturday, and I think that’s just wrong. I scoured ESPN+ and ESPN (which I also pay extra for in a Disney bundle) and it wasn’t there. I looked over my Fios grid and saw plenty of NCAA games from ESPN, MSG, Fox, SEC and yes, CBS, but it wasn’t there, either.
In an epiphany, it hit me. We have CBS All Access! CBS Sports even bragged in its announcement touting the arrival of Paramount+ about all the March Madness games it would have. Yippee!
But I yipped too soon. The only Missouri Valley Conference game that showed up on the CBS app’s thumbnail view Saturday was the next day’s final. That, it turned out, was a day late for my Bears, who were knocked out of the semifinal game in a 71-69 loss to the Drake Bulldogs, a nailbiter I wasn’t able to watch.
We pay $6 a month for what was called, until last week, “CBS All Access,” and didn’t get an NCAA Division 1 basketball game out of what CBS said was “more than 1,000 live games we’re bringing to the table.” No wonder they had to change the name.
Back in the days before streaming video services, I used to rail at the monopoly cable companies, forcing us into TV packages we didn’t want and taking advantage of being the only game in town. I was thrilled when my New York apartment building could finally get Fios from Verizon about a decade ago. My choices didn’t really change, and God knows the pricing wasn’t any better, but I felt like I at least had a choice of provider.
Now we have more provider choices than we know what to do with. More choice is always good, but right now it’s also messy and confusing. We have the Disney bundle — Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu — twice: once through a package we’ve been paying for since our free promotional year ended with Fios in December and another through my new Verizon wireless plan, which began in December. I’ll tackle that duplication after March Madness, when I won’t need access to games for my all-important bracket. But right now, I don’t want to risk missing any games that are important to me because of a password or authentication glitch, or an email address mix-up. Been there, done that.
That’s just the sports end of things. Sports won’t be a major issue after the college basketball season ends. We watch a lot of programs through Hulu, though I sense there are more duplications. Though we have a TiVo digital video recorder, which we can use to watch current programs in real time and play back later (skipping commercials easily, to boot) we somehow find the Roku streaming player a more comfortable fit these days.
With our $99 Roku player, we search for programs by voice. That’s a big deal when you don’t know which service it’s on, when it originally aired or, with legacy shows like Blacklist, which season you’re on. There’s no subscription for a guide as there is with the TiVo we’re about to sunset … or a CableCard fee to Verizon.
Even the Roku remote is a better experience. It has only the essential buttons, and it’s RF, not infrared, which means we don’t need line of sight, as we do with the TiVo’s IR receiver. We usually have a cat sitting on the sound bar beneath the TV, doing his best to run interference between the remote and the IR sensor. An RF remote communicating to the Roku box makes that a moot point.
So it appears we’ve fully transitioned to the streaming age. That doesn’t mean I’m a happy camper. We pay far too much for TV, and not having one aggregator streamlining all the programs we watch is a pain in the butt. It’s also really hard to figure out which content you have, which you don’t, and who you’re paying for what.
Last night after I went to bed, I wanted to listen to the Oprah interview with the erstwhile royals (who knew it was two hours long?). When I Googled the interview, a link to CBS came up. I clicked on it and was instructed to download the CBS app from Apple’s App Store. I double-tapped the install button on my iPhone and got a message along the lines of “payment declined.” But then, in an instant, the app miraculously took me to the interview, and it started playing. I have no idea the route my phone traveled.
Was the payment declined because we’re paying for CBS All Access/Paramount+? If so, how did my phone know that? Is the channel the interview was on part of our Fios subscription, causing authentication to somehow magically transfer from my ISP, Verizon, to my iPhone via my wireless carrier, also Verizon? Was it a glitch?
In the over-the-top video world you’re never quite sure … of anything.