Star Trek’s expanding future on television is tied explicitly to CBS All Access, the streaming service from CBS. So, it is important to keep up with what the company has to say about the future of the platform, and some clues came earlier this week at the Deutsche Bank 2019 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference where CBS President and Acting CEO Joseph Ianniello discussed the plans for All Access both in the USA and overseas. There is also some more corporate news that can impact Star Trek’s future.
Rolling out more content to keep subscribers happy
Last month CBS reported they hit their goal of 8 million subscribers early (split evenly between CBS All Access and Showtime) and moved up their long-term goal to 25 million subscribers (combined) by 2022. When asked why they are so confident, Ianniello said they have learned from their first few years running these streaming services that new original content is the key for both new customers and keeping customers interested, as well as bringing back those who canceled (what CBS refers to as “pausing”). The CEO said:
When they come back is when we launch new original content…We want to limit or eliminate all of the pauses…We saw that as we were adding more and more originals, we saw the subscriptions keep going up and the churn coming down. That gave us the confidence to say hey what was the number one reason you paused your subscription? And again it was “we want more of this, we want more content like this.” And so we have Star Trek season two airing right now on All Access. We have The Good Fight season three starting on Thursday, and then we are going to have The Twilight Zone on April first. So, the folks that like Star Trek we think are really going to stay for The Twilight Zone. So, we are thinking about holistic kind of year-round programming strategy that reduces those pauses and increases the subscriptions.
As this was an investors’ forum, Ianniello was pressed about the cost of all this spending on original content, but he justified it:
As we always say, revenue follows the investment. We feel really good that it is the best return for our shareholders we can make. On All Access we are going to have four more originals this year, to bring that up to eleven. The Good Fight starts on Thursday, and then go right into The Twilight Zone. We also have Why Women Kill coming in the summer, Interrogation coming after, Strange Angel is starting early summer with season two. So we have a nice rollout of how we are going to release the originals throughout the year. And then we end the year with a new Star Trek series. So, it really kind of buttons the year up. A nice flow. A nice sizable investment of content. We expect to see the subs and the revenue trail that.
This commitment to original content for All Access, with an emphasis on Star Trek, explains why last year CBS tasked Alex Kurtzman to expand the Trek television franchise and we have seen a number of new shows go into development since.
Changing international licensing approach could impact Picard series
The Star Trek show coming to CBS All Access at the end of the year Ianniello referenced is the one starring Patrick Stewart, returning to his Next Generation role of Jean-Luc Picard. It is still an open question as to where the new Picard show will be seen outside of the United States. The deal with Netflix to distribute Star Trek: Discovery outside the USA and Canada was announced early on in the development process and the show is actually promoted as a “Netflix original” in those markets. As for the Picard series, it is going into production next month and the recent official press statements note the show “will air exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and will be distributed concurrently internationally by CBS Studios International.”
Ianniello did not specifically discuss plans for the Picard series, but did discuss how they have started expanding All Access around the world:
Because we saw what was happening in the United States, because we saw the demand for our content from other SVOD platforms [media industry jargon for streaming providers like Netflix] that would pay high license fees for our shows, clearly, they’re smart and must be building a business model on our content as well. So, when we looked at that we thought why don’t we try that? We started with Canada [CBS All Access Canada], which is close enough to the United States and not a huge bet. And then we made a little acquisition in Australia, and we launched our service there just in the fourth quarter [Ten All Access]…We have had a lot of early success in Australia and we will be rolling these out in other markets as well.
Ianniello noted that this expansion has them reconsidering how they license their content overseas:
So, again it is really confirming what we saw here in the United States: the “If you build it they will come” theory. It has really proven out to give us optionality as we license our content…So, what we are doing now is literally pausing and making sure we are thinking about that value proposition to make sure we are maximizing the value proposition of each piece of our content. So, we don’t have a holistic strategy where we say we are never going to license our content to third parties. All we are saying is we want to pause and we want to look carefully to make sure we are getting the right value for it. But if another company has an infrastructure to maximize the content better than we can, we will certainly take their money.
Reading between the lines, it would not be a surprise to see the Picard series as an exclusive on All Access services in Canada and Australia, and possibly additional countries with services launched this year. As for the rest of the world, the show could end up on Netflix, another streaming service, or possibly even on broadcast or cable television.
All Access expected to be available through other services, including new Apple streamer
Returning to All Access in the US, it looks like there will soon be another way to subscribe, which could add convenience for some fans and bring in some new subscribers for the service. Later this month Apple is expected to officially announce the launch of its new video streaming service. In addition to its own original programming (including a new sci-fi show from Star Trek vet Ron Moore), the service is reported to also include the option to subscribe to other streaming services, and CBS All Access is expected to be one of the options available through this new Apple service.
This approach is similar to what Amazon Prime Video is doing with its Prime Channels (which includes CBS All Access). While you will still have to pay to subscribe to All Access on top of any other fees for the service, the ability to bundle different services together adds convenience and is a growing trend.
While he wouldn’t confirm the deal with Apple, CBS Interactive president Marc DeBevoise did confirm the company is looking to make All Access more available via other services, telling Variety:
We’ve been really successful at launching our apps across a number of devices and we’ve launched with Amazon Channels. I would anticipate on us doing more of those deals certainly in the future. How many and with whom? TBD. But we like that opportunity. Getting our service to more people, as easily accessible as possible for many different devices, we think is a good thing.
CBS/Viacom re-merger buzz continues
In other business news, industry outlets are reporting that CBS is nearing the end of its search for a permanent replacement for former CEO Leslie Moonves. According to Bloomberg, the board is considering a “handful” of candidates with the final decision expected by the end of March. Acting CEO Ianniello is one of the front-runners along with Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, who joined the CBS Board of Directors last year.
Variety and others reporting on the CEO search note how it is “widely expected” that CBS will re-merge with Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures, which could be “a first step to a larger and more transformative transaction.” And speaking of transformative deals and Apple, some in the industry expect the company to spend some serious capital in order to build up a library of content for its new streaming service, with Deadline reporting that both CBS and Viacom are seen as potential targets for acquisition.
Keep up with all the corporate business news impacting Star Trek here at TrekMovie.com.