What Might CBS Bring To The Aussie Streaming Landscape?

Image: CBS / Netflix

The new Star Trek: Discovery is safely locked away with Netflix Australia, but how else might CBS' move on Network Ten affect local viewers?

Australia's long-struggling Network Ten has finally found its saviour in US broadcast giant CBS, which is buying the Australian network in a deal that includes channels Ten and Eleven as well as the Tenplay streaming service – although the deal still needs to get past the regulators.

While the deal made a splash on the business pages, the bigger news for local viewers is that the US broadcaster intends to launch its CBS All Access subscription video service in Australia to rival Netflix, Amazon Prime and Stan (co-owned by Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment).

Strike a deal

There's no news on an Australian launch date for CBS All Access, although it's likely CBS will take its time in order to sort out streaming rights deals considering that much of its content is already spoken for locally.

Netflix ran into similar rights issues when it first arrived in Australia, with flagship Netflix Originals like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black in the hands of Foxtel.

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CBS All Access will be hamstrung in Australia just like Netflix; it won't be able to offer its full back catalogue, nor will it be able to release new television shows in sync with the US broadcast schedule. It's arrival could inadvertently spark renewed interest in bypassing geo-blocking to see what Americans are watching.

Even if it sticks with the Australian broadcast schedule, CBS All Access video on demand won't have free rein to offer every CBS television show, as the broadcast and catch up rights have already been licensed across the Australian networks.

CBS hit shows are spread around the dial in Australia: with NCIS screening on Ten, The Big Bang Theory on Nine and Criminal Minds on Seven. To further complicate matters, CBS owns US premium cable network Showtime – home of Homeland, Weeds and Dexter. Showtime also has content spread across Australia including a major multi-year deal with Stan. CBS won't be in a rush to scrap all these lucrative deals, but eventually you can expect some of these shows to disappear from Australia's catch up services if not the airwaves.

Like Netflix, Amazon and Stan, CBS All Access also commissions original content, with The Good Wife sequel The Good Fight snapped up by SBS On Demand and Star Trek: Discovery in the hands of Netflix everywhere outside the US and Canada. Netflix tells me it has the ongoing Australian subscription video on demand rights to Star Trek: Discovery "for the life of the series", not just the first season, so it's not going anywhere.

The downside of competition

There was a time when Australians would have welcomed another streaming video service with open arms, but we've come to realise that choice also means fragmentation and that gets expensive.

It's bad enough that you're forced to pay for multiple services if you want to watch House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Grand Tour and Wolf Creek – harking back to the dreaded expensive pay TV bundle that we're trying to leave behind. Then you have another player like CBS All Access come along and reclaim content – forcing you to cough up yet another ten bucks a month if you want to see everything that's on offer.

Speaking of pricing, CBS All Access offers an interesting model in the States. You can pay US$5.99 per month for two simultaneous streams with ad breaks, or US$9.99 to remove the ad breaks.

It's a model that could win favour in Australia considering how painful it is to watch live commercial free-to-air television. Thank god Star Trek fans no longer have to suffer at the hands of Nine and Sam Newman on a Thursday night.

At the same time, the arrival of yet another streaming service could drive more Australians back to the BitTorrent channel. Had CBS All Access snapped up Star Trek: Discovery, how many Netflix subscribers would have felt justified – rightly or wrongly – in downloading it illegally rather than paying for yet another streaming service just to watch one show?

After years of demanding more competition for Australia's traditional broadcasting dinosaurs, we're finally living in the brave new world. What do you think the arrival of CBS All Access will mean for Aussie viewers?

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