CBS All Access Broke Streaming Records During The Grammys, But Service Crashed Under The Load

CBS claims to have broken several records with regard to its online streaming service CBS All Access, during Sunday night’s broadcast of the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. Specifically, the network says that it saw record sign-ups, the highest number of unique users, and the most time spent live-streaming. However, the demand from cord cutters to watch the live event also led to a number of struggles for the lesser-known service, as users complained of issues being able to the load the online feed.

According to CBS, time spent live-streaming was up 247 percent over last year’s Grammy Awards, and unique users were up 192 percent. CBS All Access also saw its highest sign-up day ever on Sunday.

In addition, the Grammys drove record traffic across CBS’s digital platforms, including and the CBS App, the company also noted, as uniques and time spent were up double-digit percentage points over the year prior.

The growth here speaks to the demand from cord cutters to be able to watch live events without a traditional cable TV subscription, or the need for a digital antenna to watch via their living room TV.

Instead, viewers – especially the younger audience interested in an awards show like the Grammys – want to watch from other devices, like laptops, phones and tablets.


But CBS All Access isn’t exactly built like Netflix, and that’s an issue for the network.

For those unfamiliar, CBS’ streaming service has taken a different approach from competitors like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu – the latter which CBS barely participates in – refusing to provide its TV shows the day after they air, for example.

The network attempted to differentiate itself by offering linear, live feeds from local CBS stations in addition to its on-demand content. But that also means that CBS All Access is hampered by the need to reach agreements with affiliate stations across the U.S. in order to provide live streams of big events, like the Grammy’s.

The company has made a good effort on this front, and now has deals with around 85 percent of affiliates, reports Variety, or 130 U.S. markets.

But during the heavy demand for Sunday night’s live stream of the Grammy Awards, cord cutters experienced glitches that prevented them from watching – something that CBS attributed to this setup, in fact.

The problem, according to the network, was an issue from its location services provider. Before being able to begin the stream, viewers had to verify their location in the browser window. The network claimed only a small percentage were affected by this temporary glitch, but social media was filled with complaints throughout the evening.

For what it’s worth, as a cord cutter who streamed the Grammys myself, I can personally confirm that my issues didn’t stem from issues with verifying my location through the browser pop-up. Rather, the stream would just cut out at times – often during the middle of a performance, forcing me to refresh the site, re-verify my location, then wait for the stream to kick off again. A frustrating experience, to say the least.

This happened several times throughout the show, while on a stable, high-speed Internet connection at home. From reports on Twitter, at least, it doesn’t seem like I was alone.

Unfortunately for CBS, the Grammys were a make-it-or-break-it moment for its streaming service – an option many cord cutters likely hadn’t even heard of, prior to the event. (This is also clear from App Store searches, where users are looking for the phrase “CBS Live TV,” as they don’t even know the name for CBS’s service.)

CBS had hoped to capitalize on the attention the Grammy Awards were bringing, and promoted the service by offering one-week free trials to the otherwise $5.99/month over-the-top Netflix competitor. While the company may have seen “record” sign-ups for its service thanks to the Grammys, it didn’t provide hard numbers. It’s also unclear how many will stay on board now that the event has wrapped.