As of this month, the CBS All Access streaming-video platform—home of popular shows including The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and now Star Trek: Picard—stopped working on Linux PCs, regardless of the choice of browser. Ten years ago, this would have been just another day in the life of a Linux user, but it’s a little surprising in 2020. We were originally tipped off to the issue by a few irate readers but quickly found it echoed in multiple threads on Reddit, Stack Exchange, and anywhere else you’d expect to find Linux users congregating.
I’m both a Linux user and a CBS All Access subscriber myself, but I had been unaware of the problem since I do all my own watching on a Roku. Technically, the Roku is a Linux PC in its own right—but CBS has its own app in the Roku store, which works perfectly.
Moving back to one of my own PCs, I was quickly able to confirm the issue: trailers autoplay properly, and even the ads work—but the actual content won’t play on a Linux desktop PC on any browser including Google Chrome. Diving into the Chrome Web Console, we can see HTTP 400 (Bad Request) errors when the browser attempts to fetch a license from CBS’ Widevine back end.
Historically, some sites and services have deliberately blocked Linux User-Agent strings from accessing them, under the mistaken belief that doing so would reduce their support load when the service itself actually worked fine. This does not appear to be the case with the CBS All Access issue—changing User-Agent in either Chrome or Firefox doesn’t have any effect on the string of errors when attempting to play content.
The curious thing about these DRM errors is that Widevine—the DRM system CBS All Access is using—is a Google creation. It normally works perfectly well on just about any platform you can think of. Disney+, Netflix, Google Play Movies, and Hulu all use Widevine—and all of those work just fine in Google Chrome running under Linux. So we’re a little puzzled about just what happened on CBS All Access’ end to break things, even though the service does explicitly state that it doesn’t support Linux.
In further testing, we can confirm that CBS All Access does not work in Google Chrome on Android or Safari on iOS devices—although specific apps are available on both platforms, which do work. We also discovered that the service is broken under Microsoft’s new Chromium-based version of Edge—which, it’s worth noting, is likely to soon be the default browser for nearly every new Windows PC sold.
In the meantime, Linux users do have one functional workaround—CBS All Access is available as an add-on subscription to Amazon Prime streaming video. So if you need All Access on your Linux PC, you can unsubscribe from your existing subscription, log in to Prime, and start a new subscription there—where the content will play back perfectly well, using Amazon’s system instead of CBS Interactive’s.
Ars reached out to CBS Interactive for comment; an executive responded, but no answers were available at press time.