TORONTO — While its name suggests a world of entertainment free of limitations, CBS All Access will come with some familiar restrictions when it arrives in Canada next year.
Even though the U.S. streaming platform is known for a roster of exclusive TV series, including the upcoming sci-fi adventure ”Star Trek: Discovery,” viewers won’t find any of those buzzworthy shows on the Canadian version of the service.
That’s because CBS All Access has already licensed some of its biggest projects to Canadian broadcasters as part of a high-stakes battle for TV content.
In the case of “Star Trek,” the rights belong to Bell Media, which plans to debut the series on CTV on Sept. 24 before running episodes on Space and Z, its French cable channel. The show will eventually turn up on CraveTV, the company’s streaming service.
Meanwhile, “The Good Wife” spinoff “The Good Fight” is owned by Corus and airs on the W Network, while Global broadcasts CBS’ “Big Brother” reality series.
Without “Star Trek” or its other big titles, the CBS All Access service faces a tougher sell to Canadians when it arrives in the first half of 2018.
“This is the problem with all this stuff — it doesn’t translate to Canada in the same way as it exists in the States,” says Brahm Eiley, president of Convergence Research Group.
“Expect it to not be the full menu.”
Popular prime-time CBS hits such as “Big Bang Theory,” “Madam Secretary” and “NCIS” usually stream on CBS All Access a day after they’re broadcast, but it’s unclear whether existing contracts with Canadian broadcasters will strip fresh episodes off the service here as well. A representative for CBS declined to offer further details.
Streaming video blockades are a familiar experience for many Canadians who have severed ties with their cable provider only to find few legal alternatives to watch their favourite TV shows.
In the U.S., viewers can pay US$14.99 per month to subscribe to the streaming service HBO Now without a cable package, which offers access to “Game of Thrones” and the network’s other hit series.
In Canada, access to HBO costs $20 a month — but only in tandem with a TV package, it cannot be legally purchased independently.
That’s driven some fans to borrow streaming logins from friends with cable, or scour the internet for pirated copies of the latest episodes.
Eiley says the announcement by CBS All Access to explore international markets could be a negotiation tactic to drive up the value of its TV series. Canadian broadcasters want big-budget shows with familiar names to fill their prime-time lineups and will pay top dollar.
Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS Corp., told investors on Monday that he plans to sell future CBS series — as well as content from its CW network and Showtime cable channel — under the stipulation that CBS could still offer the content through its own streaming platform.
“As time progresses, there will be more and more available content that we’ll be able to put on CBS All Access internationally,” he said in a transcript of a conference call.
“We’re pretty smart about content monetization. We figure out each property and how to best monetize it and that will continue in the international marketplace.”
Last week, CBS All Access announced three new projects, including “Strange Angel” from executive producer Ridley Scott, and “No Activity,” produced by Will Ferrell. It’ll be up to CBS to decide how to deal with Canadian broadcasters that take a hard-line and insist on exclusivity for streaming.
Ultimately, CBS All Access will need more than a few scant new offerings to be a formible streaming competitor.
A monthly subscription to CBS All Access costs US$5.99 per month in the U.S., while users can pay $9.99 for a commercial-free version. Prices for Canada haven’t been announced.
In the U.S., the service also houses a vast library of classic TV series like “Cheers,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Taxi.” Kaan Yigit, a technology analyst at Solutions Research Group, questions whether those older titles would be enough to convince Canadians to pay for the service.
“I suppose there is some value in catalogue but I’m uncertain about market potential,” he said.
“But (it’s) of course important symbolically as it indicates where the video market is going — subscription-based streaming.”