On Wednesday afternoon, CBS CEO Les Moonves participated in a panel on the future of the entertainment industry at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, CA. Among the other big industry names on the panel was Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer for Netflix, who’s partnering with CBS as the international distributor for the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series, which will be available in the U.S. on CBS All Access.
During the wide-ranging discussion covering various factors on the future on the industry CBS’ upcoming Star Trek show came up a number of times. One notable moment came early on when Moonves answered a question about why they chose not to participate in Hulu (unlike CBS, NBC and Fox). While answering the question, Moonves gave a premiere time for Discovery.
Hulu is a phenomenal thing and it is a great organization. We felt it was odd taking our content, which is the family jewels, and putting it in an organization with our competitors. So we decided to go our own way and it was a different way to go. Hulu is wildly successful, but CBS All Access, we love what we are doing there. We obviously put The Good Wife spin-off [The Good Fight] there. We have Star Trek [Discovery] coming in the beginning of the fall. It’s going extremely well.
In early March Moonves estimated Discovery would launch in late summer or early fall, so it appears they are narrowing that down. This estimate is also significant because just three weeks ago the head of CBS All Access said they weren’t tied to any date and refused to say if they were targeting a fall release. So apparently CBS is back in the game of estimating a Star Trek: Discovery release date. It’s possible the avoidance of a WGA strike has given them more confidence.
Why Star Trek: Discovery is on CBS All Access
Moonves was specifically asked about how the company was tailoring content for the CBS All Access platform, which led to him talking about how they see original CBS All Access shows as ‘premium’ content. He then got more specific as to why he sees Star Trek: Discovery as a good fit for it:
Star Trek we could have sold anywhere. There was a bidding war within CBS because it is obviously a very valuable property. We also learned from Netflix. We put the other Star Trek series [on Netflix] and they did very well. They don’t share the information, but…we knew Star Trek did extremely well. They have a very loyal audience. We said “if we give them a good product, that they will come and they will pay for it. It will be special.” And that is how we look at CBS All Access.
Netflix’s and international market importance for Discovery
When the subject later turned to the importance of entertainment industry sales outside the U.S., Moonves again brought up Star Trek: Discovery, saying:
So every decision we make, the international marketplace becomes really really important. As Ted said, we couldn’t afford to do Star Trek, or the quality of the show, without Netflix help who bought the rest of the world, for a very nice fee may I add.
When asked specifically about how international sales influenced decisions for original content for CBS All Access, Moonves contrasted the two shows that have been announced for the platform (The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery):
You know that a Star Trek will travel. You know a The Good Wife [spin-off] might not do nearly as well. It is much more of an American show. There is much more talking involved as opposed to action-adventure. So [international sales] does affect your decisions, but not exclusively.
At this point Ted Sarandos from Netflix chimed in, talking about how they are working with CBS as the international distributor for Star Trek Discovery:
If you ever needed more proof that this isn’t a zero-sum game, on the Star Trek series we are doing it together. We are launching it outside of U.S. all over the world. And coming in as production partners, we have been great partners together on making a show that could have been smaller, bigger. It is a net gain for everybody.
Hearing Moonves and Sarandos talk it seems that Netflix has done more than just buy the international rights to Discovery, but are working more closely together with CBS on the show.
Don’t expect a CBS/Viacom re-merger – Star Trek will remain split
Back in 2006, Viacom split into two corporations. CBS became a stand-alone entity, with most of the cable channels along with Paramount Pictures staying within Viacom. Over the last decade the notion of re-merging has come up every once in a while and Moonves was specifically asked if he saw one coming, but he was very dismissive of the idea:
That’s past. We are looking forward not backward. For obvious reasons Viacom is fine and CBS is fine and we like to say, because we are on every platform in the world virtually — you can’t live without CBS just the way we are now. You can’t live without the NFL, without 60 Minutes, without Colbert, without Big Bang Theory. We are just fine… content to die for.
Of course another big piece of that “content to die for” is Star Trek. And while CBS owns Star Trek as a whole and is the only company that can make a Star Trek TV show, Viacom and Paramount own the Star Trek film library and the sole right to make Star Trek feature films. This bifurcation makes it impossible to have an integrated strategy for the franchise across multiple media like Disney can do with Star Wars or their Marvel properties.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.
Thanks to Michael Wong for assistance with this article.