How to Watch CBS Without Cable

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You don’t have to lose access to CBS and its popular programming like NCIS and the NCAA Final Four when you cancel your cable subscription. This guide will walk you through the best options for watching CBS online without cable.

We will start by reviewing the third-party streaming services that carry CBS in their lineups and the limitations each one has. Then we will look at CBS’ own streaming service and talk about why getting a CBS live stream has to be so difficult. Finally, we will examine some of the reasons why the effort is worth it – CBS’ roster of popular entertainment, news, and sports programming.

Streaming Services With CBS

Technically speaking, the following streaming services carry CBS, but we will see that nothing about the availability of CBS is cut and dried.

FuboTV

The sports-centric FuboTV is rapidly expanding its over-the-top content offering beyond its original focus on soccer. As part of that expansion, an announcement last June heralded CBS’ arrival on FuboTV.

The service’s $49.99 monthly subscription (discounted to $34.99 at the time of writing) gets you access to a sports-heavy lineup of more than sixty channels. An included cloud DVR service lets you record and store up to ten programs. FuboTV’s unique “Lookback” service is designed for the sportsfans at the heart of its subscriber base. It lets you watch any sports broadcast up to 72 hours after it aired.

FuboTV Shortcode

 

But there’s a catch: only fourteen markets have access to the CBS live streams when they debut on FuboTV. More markets will join, but national availability will take time. Minor spoiler: this is a running theme that we will discuss further down.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV

Google launched its live TV streaming service, YouTube TV, this past April. The $35 monthly subscription gets you live streams from all the major broadcast networks as well as many cable networks. Google provides a cloud DVR that lets you save an unlimited number of programs (they disappear after nine months). YouTube TV’s most interesting feature is the way it lets you create six accounts for your household – each with its own unique profile, preferences, and cloud DVR.

Related: Amid Google’s YouTube TV Announcement Comes Excitement—and Questions

Availability is the one catch: YouTube TV debuted in five markets and expanded into ten more over the subsequent three months. Again, it may take a while for YouTube TV to reach your market.

Hulu With Live TV

Hulu With Live TV

Hulu based its success on being the go-to source for on-demand TV and especially for the current run shows that Netflix could not get. This past May, Hulu expanded its TV-centric strategy with live broadcast streams through its Hulu With Live TV subscription package.

The $39.99 monthly payment lets you stream live programming from major broadcast and cable networks. Hulu’s cloud DVR will store up to 50 hours of programming (an extra monthly payment will make that unlimited). Hulu’s apps will let you watch the streams on just about any device (limit two, but an extra monthly payment will make that unlimited). Hulu even offers access to premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime for an extra monthly fee. (starting to sound like cable, isn’t it?)

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CBS, however, has never played nice with Hulu. It was the only traditional network whose catalog Hulu could not provide. That changed in January with the announcement that CBS would join Hulu, including its live broadcast streams.

But (you guessed it) there’s a catch: CBS live streams are only available in certain markets. Outside of those markets you must settle for watching recent episodes a day or so after they air. Scroll down the Hulu With Live TV page to the “View all channels in your area” link to find out what the situation is for your town.

PlayStation Vue

Playstation Vue

Sony’s over-the-top service, PlayStation Vue, has four different monthly subscription packages that range from $39.99 all the way up to $79.99. All of them include cloud DVR service as well as app support for a wide range of devices beyond the PlayStation.

You will have a better shot at watching CBS on PlayStation Vue than on any other streaming service. Sony and CBS signed a distribution agreement in 2015 and PlayStation Vue has added CBS markets ever since. It now reaches one hundred of the more than two hundred US markets CBS serves.

Even if you are in those markets, however, you face some big restrictions. CBS programs recorded to Sony’s cloud DVR are only available on devices connected to your home network. Take your laptop, tablet, or smartphone out of the house and you lose access. It may not matter since some CBS local affiliates don’t allow DVR recording at all.

Watch CBS Directly

CBS.com

All of the networks will let you watch video clips and a limited number of recent episodes from their websites. The other networks invested heavily in the TV Everywhere model that requires a cable subscription to unlock live streams.

Related: How to Watch NBC Online, Without Cable in 2017 – Complete Guide

CBS took a different approach. You can still watch recent episodes on the CBS website, but to get the live stream you must subscribe to CBS’ streaming service.

CBS All Access

CBS All Access Landing Page

Launched in 2014, CBS All Access lets you choose from an 8,500 episode archive of programs that aired on CBS over the past sixty years. You also get the live stream of CBS’ national sports, news, and entertainment programming along with your local affiliate’s programming.

CBS All Access Signup

 

The standard service costs $5.99 per month. A $9.99 per month subscription will eliminate the few ads that run during the on-demand content. In both cases you have to watch ads on the live TV stream.

CBS All Access Walkthrough

CBS All Access sign up

The simple sign-up process requires a credit card, but the first week is free.

CBS All Access signed in

Once you’re in, you can start watching or set up your connected devices. Just download the app to generate an activation key.

CBS All Access in Apple TV Store

Ignore the 1.5-star lifetime rating for the CBS app in the Apple TV store. The app’s current version has received more than 4,200 reviews and a 4.5-star rating. How often does that happen? It gets a lower 3.8-star rating on the Google Play store, but that lifetime score is also held back by an older version of the app.

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CBS All Access shows to watch on Apple TV

You can browse for current and past TV series directly or through categories like comedies, dramas, reality TV, and news.

CBS All Access original shows on Apple TV

CBS will only release three CBS All Access Originals in 2017, but the roster will expand incrementally over the next few years to make the subscription service a destination for the network’s core audience.

CBS All Access live TV paid programming

For most people in America, the CBS live stream will bring you all of your favorite national and local shows. Plus all the infomercials you can stand.

CBS All Access Originals

Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access

Variety reported that CBS All Access enrolled more than 1.5 million subscribers – about the same as CBS-owned cable channel Showtime. CBS plans to build on that success by producing original content for exclusively for its streaming service.

The shows will appeal to CBS’ demographics so don’t expect edgy or boundary-pushing programs like Transparent or The Walking Dead. CBS kicked things off earlier this year with the debut of The Good Fight, a spinoff that follows several characters from the wildly successful drama The Good Wife. Critics gave it fairly positive reviews and it even earned an Emmy nomination.

It is the way CBS aired The Good Fight that shows how it will leverage its over-the-air network to boost its subscription revenue. The Good Fight premiered on broadcast TV during CBS’ primetime schedule. All the other episodes, week by week, appeared on CBS All Access and nowhere else.

CBS will repeat the process on September 24 when the much-anticipated Star Trek: Discovery brings science fiction’s favorite TV franchise back to the small screen. New episodes will appear on CBS All Access over the next seven weeks. After the holiday hiatus, the final seven episodes will start appearing in January of 2018.

You Knew There Was a Catch

As hard as it is to believe, even CBS’ own service can’t stream live TV everywhere. About fifty markets representing fewer than 10% of America’s TV-watching households are blacked out. You will want to check the CBS help page to see whether your town can get the live stream.

Why Is This So Difficult?

Sitting on this side of the big screen it’s easy to think that negotiating streaming deals should be a no-brainer. How hard can it be, right? CBS and Hulu sit down and cut the deal.

Unfortunately, it is not a two-sided conversation. CBS only has absolute control of the sixteen local stations it owns outright. The other two hundred stations have independent owners who make their own decisions. Without the local affiliate’s blessing, CBS cannot stream its live content in that market.

This isn’t just the local affiliates turning the screws for their cut of the take. The local content that each station broadcasts is tied up in contracts that may have been negotiated long before streaming was a thing. Those contracts have to be reviewed and, possibly, renegotiated before the local station’s content can stream.

So why not skip the local stuff and just stream the national programming? The broadcast networks depend on their local affiliates. If CBS streamed its national content for everyone to see, it would cut the legs out from under the affiliates who ultimately generate CBS’ billions in revenue.

Things will get better. CBS and a group representing its affiliates agreed earlier this year to an easier process. The details aren’t public, but they created a framework for getting CBS’ local and national streams onto over-the-top streaming services.

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Is CBS Worth the Hassles?

Getting online access to CBS can still be worth it. The network airs some of the most popular shows on TV – broadcast or cable. Whether there is enough to justify the extra work depends on your tastes, so let’s take a look at some of the hit programming CBS delivers.

Entertainment

Big Bang Theory on CBS All Access

When TV ratings company Nielsen posted its list of the most popular TV shows (broadcast and cable) in 2016, CBS dominated with five of the top ten. The Big Bang Theory took the number one spot – not bad for a ten-year-old series about geek culture. Fourteen years into its run NCIS, itself a spinoff from an earlier CBS hit, survived the departure of its popular co-star to secure the second spot. Michael Weatherly’s jump from NCIS to lead actor in Bull paid off – especially for CBS. Tom Selleck, who got his big acting break as the star in CBS’ Magnum PI, leads Blue Bloods into its eighth season of ratings success this Fall.

People may not gather around the family TV set like they used to, but the dramas and comedies on CBS are keeping appointment TV alive and well.

Sports

PGA Championships on CBS

Live sports coverage is where broadcast networks shine. CBS owned four of the top ten single telecast shows on TV last year, led by the ratings-topper Super Bowl while CBS’ broadcast of Thursday Night Football was the ninth most popular regularly scheduled show in 2016. CBS’s broadcast sports lineup includes the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as well as major golf tournaments like the Masters and the PGA Championship.

Live Events

Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS All Access

Whether it’s music fans tuning into the Grammy Awards and Academy of Country Music Awards, Broadway fans watching the Tony Awards, or pop culture fans and the People’s Choice Awards, CBS is a must-see destination on some of the biggest nights of the year for the entertainment industry.

News

News on CBS All Access

Edward R Morrow defined network news coverage from CBS’ radio days into the dawn of television. Walter Cronkite carried that legacy into the Reagan years. Supplemented by its dedicated over-the-top news channel CBSN, the network’s national and international journalists carry that tradition into the strange new world of modern reporting.

Related: How to Watch Live News on Apple TV in 2017 (For Free) – Complete Guide

People start their days with CBS This Morning, keep up with the news during the day on The View and CBSN, and tune into CBS Nightly News, 60 Minutes, and 48-Hours for in-depth investigations. Finally, they wrap things up with the late night commentary of Stephen Colbert.

Conclusion

Getting streams of CBS content takes more work than it should. You will have to ask yourself how much effort – and cash – you are willing to put into it. If the network’s programs and live events are must-see-TV for you, then that CBS All Access subscription might be worth it. If you like the content but don’t want to pay yet another subscription, then paying for services like FuboTV or PlayStation Vue might be the better choice – even if it means waiting a few months for CBS to appear.

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