Paid Programming: Investigating streaming ads during the election season

Paid Programming: Investigating streaming ads during the election season

CBS All Access

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CBS All Access is an American video streaming service owned by CBS Interactive. CBS All Access currently operates in the U.S., Canada, and Australia and will roll out to other markets in 2021. CBS All Access & Showtime had a combined 11 million subscribers as of December 2019.

Grade C

Overall grade

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Our analysis

CBS seems to have strong policies in place aimed at vetting political ads and preventing platform abuse, enforcing rules similar to those it applies to broadcast television. However, the platform does not provide comprehensive ad transparency tools to enable researchers to ensure the integrity of the platform.

Political Ads

Letter grade A

Partial grade: A

CBS has strong policies in place for political ads that are comparable to those applied to ads aired on broadcast television. CBS thoroughly vets ads and requires ad spend disclosures on the ad itself.

Does it allow political ads?

What are its rules for placing political ads?
CBS has strict policies for political ads. All ads must be reviewed and approved by CBS' legal and editorial teams to ensure that the ads comply with state and federal regulations for political campaigning and advertising.

Do political advertisers need to verify their identity in order to place ads?

Does it clearly mark political ads?
Yes. CBS requires advertisers to include a pre-roll message stating, "The following is a paid political advertisement" and a post-roll message stating, "The preceding has been a paid political advertisement."

Does it require a "paid for" disclosure for political ads?
Yes. CBS requires all political ads to include a disclaimer label that clearly identifies who is paying for the ad. The label itself must be legible and it must appear in the final frame of the animation for at least 5 seconds. If the ad was created by an organization that doesn't officially represent a candidate, it must state so clearly. Additional disclosure requirements may be required, depending on the state.

Does it fact-check or otherwise vet political ads?
Yes. CBS thoroughly reviews every political ad for accuracy before running it.

Ad Transparency

Letter grade F

Partial grade: F

CBS provides no transparency tools to support real-time monitoring or analysis. An ad library with complete, real-time data is critical to researchers and election watchdogs ensuring the integrity of the platform.

Does it voluntarily report ad spend?

Does it have a public ad transparency library? (See our guidelines)

Does that library include ALL ads, not just political ads?

Ad Targeting

Letter grade C

Partial grade: C

Political advertisers may be able to micro-target users, depending on how granular advertisers may get when targeting users. CBS seems to have strong safeguards in place that would prevent such behavior, though.

Does the platform allow political advertisers to target you based on:

(e.g. contextual ads)

Yes. Political advertisers can target by age range.

Yes. Political advertisers can target specific states, zip codes, and media markets.

Interests & Behaviors (e.g. TV viewing data)
Yes. For instance, political advertisers can target based on programs the user is watching, or the type of political news they are reading on CBSNews.

Custom audiences (e.g. advertiser uploads 1st party data)

Audience/Customer Matching (e.g. platform matches 3rd party data to existing customers)
Yes. For instance, people can be targeted based on household income, education level, number of children, or whether or not they are a veteran. Political advertisers can target people based on causes they support, their political party affiliation, whether they are a registered voter, or whether they have cast their ballot already.

Lookalike/Similar audiences (e.g. platform finds new, "similar" audience segments)

Behavioral segments (e.g. inferred characteristics)
Yes. For instance, political advertisers can target users who have shown an affinity for specific causes or political topics.

Potential Abuse

Letter grade B

Partial grade: B

CBS seems to take a relatively mature approach. Its policies around political ad vetting and disclosures can effectively prevent "dark advertising" because people can draw attention to problems on the platform. However, the platform fails to provide any kind of comprehensive ad transparency tools.

Does it have a self-service platform?

Does the platform allow for negative targeting or blacklisting?

What steps is the platform taking to prevent abuse?
CBS' legal and editorial teams thoroughly vet the claims made in political ads and ensure they comply with local laws before they are run.

User Control

Letter grade D

Partial grade: D

Users cannot opt out of political ads. The platform does not seem to have given users control their ads or how they are targeted.

Can users opt out of political ads?

Can users get access to information about how they are being targeted?

Can users request deletion of their data?
Some users can. California residents can request deletion of their data, according to CBS' privacy policy.