TV à la carte is having its big bang moment this week. Yesterday, HBO said that it would finally offer a standalone online streaming service that wouldn't require fans to pay for a TV subscription. Today, after long hinting at the move, CBS announced that it would launch its own $5.99-a-month digital subscription service, called CBS All Access. And there's more! CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves tells the New York Times that a similar option could coming for its premium network Showtime "in the not too distant future."
What will CBS All Access look like? Subscribers will be be able to stream local stations live, or watch shows on demand the day after they air. As the Times notes, this is the first time "a traditional broadcaster will make a near-continuous live feed of its local stations available over the web to non-pay-TV subscribers." Aside from current programs like The Good Wife and Survivor, fans can gorge on past hits both from CBS and other networks, including Star Trek, Macgyver, Cheers, and Twin Peaks. One big thing the service will be missing: live NFL games. But still: Macgyver!
The bigger question: What does this all mean for the future of TV? After these last two days, it does certainly feel like a dam is breaking. If this experiment works for CBS, the other major networks will likely follow suit. We could be heading for a moment where you can pick and choose your favorite TV-bits in lieu of a full menu of online TV options.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the cable bundle is dying. Business Insider's Jay Yarow made a very good, simple point after the HBO news broke yesterday: Plenty of people watch more than one or two TV stations, and after a while, ordering them up one at a time gets pretty expensive, especially once you consider the cost of a broadband Internet connection. Aside from the HBO die-hards out there, it's still not clear how many households would save money by just paying to stream their favorite shows rather than shell out for a normal cable package.
Regardless, with the CBS news, the TV industry is moving decisively towards a world of more consumer choice, and that can't be a bad thing.