As cable niche networks cater to specific tastes and the DVR lets us cherry-pick programming disentangled from their grid, the brand value of the traditional TV network is debatable at best. Do many of us really identify CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC prime time with specific types of programs? Do they have a tone and spirit that unifies the grid across morning, day and nighttime parts?
Whatever our answer, the networks themselves have no choice but to believe in the enduring value of their brand. To wit, the new CBS app makes much -- but certainly not all -- of their programming day available for screening after the fact. The app makes daytime and late-night programs available next day and prime-time series available eight days after airing. In a statement, CBS CEO Les Moonves says that this model allows the network to distribute content more widely without undermining its own ecosystem.
The app itself is okay, as far as it goes. It has full episodes of many shows, except notably mega-hit "Big Bang Theory" and new hit "Two Broke Girls," which are published as select clips. The shows also have attached social streams and info.
Even CBS admits this is really a waypoint to a later more coherent second-screen strategy, which will marry the current synched viewing aspects of the CBS Connect app with this episode repository. This app does feel like a half-measure. As Karin Gilford of ABC said at an OMMA Mobile panel at SXSW last week, it is hard to explain to users the concept of media property rights and why this prevents them from having unfettered access to some TV content next day. One has to wonder how many people really will keep in mind that they can see the episode of NCIS they missed last night…in another week.
But there is something vaguely imperious and old school about this app. It shot up to the top of the Apple iTunes charts, and the user reviews were radically mixed. Some welcomed the access to many new episodes. But about as many were dismayed by the absence of favorites. Curiously, the TBS app actually does make available about six episodes of syndicated hit "Big Bang Theory" (granted from an early season) while the network that actually broadcasts original episodes offers none. But my dismay is over the lack of service in the app. The app makes content available to this device channel but seems to treat the smartphone and tablet as a simple extension of network programming, as a promotion rather than a service.
In addition to the spotty show coverage, there are no tools aimed at convenience, like downloading an episode for offline viewing or dropping and resuming playback across media. The sharing tools are really aimed at enhancing CBS’s promotions, by posting to social networks. There is an old TV network hubris to this, as if CBS is acknowledging the platform of mobile without really showing an understanding for the more personal and flexible ways people want to use it. The unsaid implication is that we’re loosening our business model and giving all of you our coveted content in yet another format. Don’t expect much more than that.