CBS’s announcement that Star Trek will be returning to the small screen caught many fans and media by surprise. Perhaps most intriguing is that the 7th incarnation of Trek on television will be available exclusively on CBS’s online streaming platform. Can Star Trek All Access succeed as the network’s flagship venturing into a new frontier? Now that we’ve all had some time to digest it, we here at TrekMovie thought it might be fun to dissect CBS’s press release and see what we can glean from it.
We cover a great deal of this in more detail on our latest podcast as well, and we really think you should try it out. The Great Bird of the Galaxy would want you to.
First, let’s talk about the giant Sehlat in the room:
“The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast on the CBS Television Network. The premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service…The new program will be the first original series developed specifically for U.S. audiences for CBS All Access, a cross-platform streaming service that brings viewers thousands of episodes from CBS’s current and past seasons on demand, plus the ability to stream their local CBS Television station live for $5.99 per month. CBS All Access already offers every episode of all previous Star Trek television series.”
The notion that it would cost money to see the new show upset a lot of people, who resent having to cough up more quatloos in order to watch something they think they should get over the broadcast airwaves or through their cable subscriptions. For years, cord-cutting millenials have been begging for a la carte content. They want to watch any show at any time on any device. But, as they say, be careful what you wish for.
Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime got a head start on securing a large market share of monthly streaming content subscription services. HBO kept much of its audience while bringing in tons of new customers with their no-cable-necessary HBO NOW service, a highly profitable pivot for the network that has a history of providing top-notch original programming.
If the announcement had come this week that Star Trek would be a Netflix original program, fans would be jumping up and down willing to throw their money at the streaming giant that has successfully launched a myriad of high-budget, compelling original shows. So, why are those same fans so upset about All Access? A couple of reasons. First, it’s just another service to subscribe to. Ex-cable customers are loving their lower monthly bill after ditching their cable service, which cost a minimum of $66/month (for basic cable in the US) in 2014, and can easily exceed $100/month. But, in truth, you still end up saving a ton of money each month by subscribing to all your networks a la carte rather than having cable.
A month of Star Trek All Access: about the price of a cup of coffee
The second more subtle (and, perhaps more important) reason that fans are turned off by the move to only All Access is the fear that it may spell the beginning of the end for a show that hasn’t even aired yet. CBS is using Star Trek to anchor their streaming service. If you want to watch it, you’ve gotta subscribe, so they are banking on enough people paying to see Trek to help the budding service grow.
But, what about the undoubtedly significant number of fans for whom a streaming service is too much of a barrier? All Access strikes fear into the heart of some for two main reasons. First, Star Trek fans tend to skew older. Many of our beloved elder Trekkies (the ones you’re jealous of for getting to watch TOS during it’s original run) are now supposed to navigate the world of streaming television, where they have to buy a new “set top box” and subscribe to some new fangled technology. If grandma needs a detailed set of instructions to confidently operate the remote control, there’s no way she would understand All Access.
Old (and old-at-heart) people aside, what about people with only a passing interest in Star Trek? The new movies did do good for the franchise by stirring up interest in lots of only semi-interested would-be Trekkies (who then went back and watched the television series’ on Netflix). But, would they pay $6/month for one show that they may or may not care about? Probably not.
Star Trek has been used to bolster a new network before, and we all remember how well that turned out for the ratings.
This is not to say that the move to exclusive online is a bad one. CBS may just be on to something here, and if they have enough confidence in Star Trek to use it to anchor their streaming service, let’s hope they at least put their money where their mouth is and give the show a decent budget (and, more importantly, a great set of writers and show runners).
CBS: Sort of reaching toward the future
CBS’s decision to put Star Trek on All Access is one of several signs that many studios and networks are ultimately going to launch their own services, using their shows and movies to help ensure their success.
CBS President and CEO Les Moonves, during a conference call on Tuesday, said that CBS would still “remain a good partner for Netflix and Hulu”, but said that,
“Star Trek is a family jewel; it’s an important piece of business for us as we go forward…we’re looking to do original content on All Access and build up that platform. Netflix is our friend a competitor. They compete with [CBS Corp.’s] Showtime. All Access will put out original content and knowing the loyalty of Star Trek fans, this will boost it. … There’s about a billion channels out there and because of Star Trek, people will know what All Access is about.”
Moonves’ proclamations of partnership aside, we think the long term play by CBS is to build up All Access with original shows like the new Star Trek, and then pull most, if not all, of their current and catalog content off of competing streaming services and place it on their own service exclusively. It’s likely that CBS is going to do just that with their large Star Trek catalog.
The old adage that “content is king” is more true than ever, which is why Netflix, Amazon, and others are creating their own shows in a bid to keep their subscribers and drive growth. CBS has a vast library going back 60 years or more and can leverage all of that to help bring in more subscribers.
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Exploring Strange New Worlds
Okay, let’s move on from all the business and distribution chat for a moment and talk about what’s truly important here, which is the show itself.
The announcement that Alex Kurtzman (sans writing partner Roberto Orci) would be shepherding the new show came as a surprise to many. His departure from the current movie series seemed to suggest that he was leaving the Star Trek universe behind. We don’t know much about what he and his producing partner Heather Kadin have in store, but the series will apparently feature:
“…new characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring the dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise since its inception in 1966.”
This would seem to suggest that the show will embrace Star Trek’s long history of tackling important issues of the day, which will be welcome news to fans who feel that the current film series is too action-oriented and not cerebral enough.
Timelines Old and New
A huge question weighing on everybody’s mind is: in which timeline will the new series be set? The press release indicated that the new show is “not related to the upcoming feature film Star Trek Beyond”. This could mean either a) the series will exist in the same timeline as STB but some simply not cross over in any way or b) Star Trek is returning to the Prime timeline. There are good arguments for both scenarios.
Neu Trek on the Small Screen
Since 2009, Star Trek has been rebuilding its brand for a new generation of Trekkies, not only with new characters and actors, but with a completely new universe to boot. Paramount has been pushing to bring in younger fans, and CBS’s decision to air Star Trek exclusively online is one way they are marketing to millennials and younger. It’s hard to imagine that CBS would want to loose any momentum built up from the hip and modernized soon-to-be trilogy. With Alex Kurtzman attached to produce the new show, it makes a neuTrek series seem all the more plausible.
Making It Star Trek Again
That’s not to say, however, that CBS is locked into the Paramount-created JJ Trek. Quite the contrary. The schism that has existed between CBS and Paramount since they were split apart in 2006 looms large here. As had been reported in many other places, CBS owns the trademark and copyright to the franchise and has complete control over the television catalog and any new television production. Paramount licenses Star Trek from CBS and only has control over the feature film catalog and any new film production. Essentially, Star Trek is owned by two companies, and those companies have their own ideas about what to do with it.
CBS still makes a great deal of money from merchandising the original timeline, and is probably not anxious to wipe it all out in favor of something entirely new. That’s completely valid, of course, as is the fact that the reboot appears to be the property of Paramount (and perhaps Bad Robot), and would probably require some kind of deal in order for CBS to get the right to use the alternate timeline for the new show.
It may be more complicated (or more simple) than that; it’s hard to tell. From the outside, the rights issues can be very confusing.
Regardless of the platform it plays on, relaunching Star Trek is a no-brainer. A successful Star Trek show fills CBS’s coffers in myriad ways. Besides increased subscription fees for All Access, CBS stands to do very well by licensing the show for every kind of product you can imagine. The ability to generate revenue that’s ancillary to the show itself is a dream for any studio or network, and Star Trek has historically been a licensing cash machine for CBS and Paramount, making the notion of launching a new show even more appealing. So, expect to see a flood of merchandise coming your way.
A Last Word
For those of you worried that CBS doesn’t have the right people running the show or are concerned about budget, there is something important to keep in mind: CBS wants this service to succeed. It doesn’t want to damage the Star Trek brand, and, above all, it wants to make us fans as happy as possible so that we keep coming back month after month, not just for Trek, but for the rest of CBS’s show business empire. They want the fans to be excited about the new show and the future that lies ahead. So before we start to worry, how about we give Trek a chance?