CBS All Access a Big Fail for NFL Online Streaming

Today, the Seattle Seahawks played the Chicago Bears and the game was being shown live on CBS.

Since I didn’t have cable, I decided to sign up for CBS All Access, a monthly subscription service that gives you access to live and on-demand content.

And they were offering first month access for free.

It seemed too good to be true, and it was.

Live TV Only Available in Select Markets

The CBS website states that Live TV is only available in select markets.


So during the sign-up process, they have you check availability of Live TV in your local area:


So I check availability with a bated breath (the game had already started by now). After a couple of seconds, I get confirmation that Live TV is available in my local area. Alright!


So I enter my personal details and credit card information. And I install the CBS app on my iPhone.

Live Stream Not Available Yet

It looks like we’re almost there!

I sit back, open the CBS app and select Live TV. And then click the “Start Watching” button!


But I get this strange message:


It tells me that “The program currently on-air in not available yet. Please check back soon“.

So I’m thinking, maybe my account hasn’t been updated with my credit card information, or maybe there’s a delay in picking up the stream. So I keep trying over and over again for the next 20 minutes.

Nothing. I just keep seeing the same message. What’s going on?

It’s Almost Halftime, So Time to Call for Help

Time was running out and I’d already missed almost half the game by now. So I call the CBS help desk.

I explain my problem and the representative immediately tells me “We don’t have rights to show the game online”.

So I ask “When can I watch it?”. After all, the message in the app told me “check back soon”.

She tells me “No, you can’t watch it online live or on-demand. We don’t have the rights to NFL games”. What?!?

I ask her “Shouldn’t I have been told this before I signed up?”. She tells me “It’s in the FAQ (frequently asked questions)”.

So the entire experience was a big waste of time for me.

What Could CBS Have Done Better

This is a good example of how a terrible user experience could have been avoided with a few simple changes.

  1. Tell me before I sign-up and give you my credit card details: if you don’t want to piss off your customers, then tell them before they signup and give you their credit card information.

A simple one-line sentence could be added to this screen to let people know before they start the sign-up process.


  1. Tell me when I’m checking availability of Live TV in my local market: if CBS is already going to the trouble of asking people to check availability of Live TV in their local area, how hard would it be to also let people know that they won’t be able to watch NFL games as well as some other sports?


  1. Don’t display or flag unable content in the programming schedule: if someone still signs up and gets to the Live TV screen, then CBS could still flag content that’s not available, so people (like me) don’t waste time trying to figure out what the problem is with our account, app or internet connection.


  1. Provide clearer and more useful ‘error’ messages: if the content will never be available online, then don’t use a generic message telling me “it’s not available yet” and to “check back soon“. That’s misleading and you’re wasting my time.

How about a specific message for sports content or NFL content in particular?


It’s Not Good Enough CBS

To be fair, CBS have added a prominent ticker to the top of their FAQ page with the above message and explain the weird error message you get when you try to watch an NFL game.

But that’s not good enough CBS.

That seems like you’re doing as little as possible, just so you can ‘check the box’ that you did something.

And it’s also misleading because you’re not making it clear anywhere during the signup process. So it’s not hard for someone to jump to the conclusion that you’re hiding it so you can still get people to signup (and hopefully not cancel).

I hope we’re going to see more thought into delivering a better user/customer experience from CBS soon.