New Star Trek Series Beaming to Streaming

As someone who grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, there's probably nothing that's going to stop me from watching the new Star Trek TV series announced today. I'll grant you that TNG doesn't hold up well in the modern era -- Counselor Deanna Troi's outfit alone makes it look like she should have been on the set of the 1980's movie Flashdance rather than a 24th century starship. However, Star Trek, in all its forms, was a classic long before science fiction on TV was cool, and the franchise has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself through decades of TV spin-offs and movies.

Here's the catch, though. After a premiere on the CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) broadcast network, the new Star Trek will only be available through the CBS All Access subscription service. It's the first original series for CBS All Access, and the company is no doubt counting on Star Trek's fan base to bring in new viewers for $5.99 per month. I, for example, have no desire to spend more money just to get multiscreen access to current CBS shows and the network's back catalog of content. But for new Star Trek episodes? Sure, why not?

Sorry, no interviews...
Sorry, no interviews...

It's a significant shift in viewing behavior for me. I never subscribed to any premium cable networks when that's all they were. No HBO or Showtime or Starz (which is also going direct-to-consumer, by the way), when it meant adding $10 to my monthly cable bill. But as a standalone offering with no contract? I'm game for that. I signed up for HBO Now when Game of Thrones was airing, and I canceled my subscription when the GoT season was done. I'm willing to do the same for Star Trek.

Want to know more about the impact of web services on the pay-TV sector? Check out our dedicated OTT services content channel here on Light Reading.

There is a downside, however. As much as one good series can be an audience draw for new subscription services, the strategy will be tricky to maintain in the long run. I don't want to buy one service to get Game of Thrones, another to get Star Trek, another to get Sense8... Well, you get the idea.

Some will say we could solve the problem by making every show available à la carte. But not every show is a Star Trek that I know I'm going to want to watch before it even airs. Most shows need room to find their audience.

What it comes down to is, we need the TV bundle. (See Resetting the Bundle.)

Right now, lots of programmers are fighting to create the new online bundles that will make viewers hand over their credit cards. However, while there will be space in the market for multiple subscription VoD services, there won't be room for an infinite amount.

In the short term, the CBS strategy is sound. Use a high-value TV series to attract subscribers. But it's not a sustainable strategy for the industry as a whole. In the long term, only so many service providers will be able "to boldly go" where Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) has gone before.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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mhhf1ve 11/5/2015 | 8:02:43 PM
Re: Cause for concern The success of this will totally depend on the writers and quality of the plots.... I couldn't stand watching the Star Trek Enterprise series -- just too corny for me. At least they've said that this series will be completely independent of any of the movies. phew! 
mhhf1ve 11/5/2015 | 7:58:55 PM
Re: Boldly gone before Production value? I'm wondering if this really makes sense for a sci-fi show -- because the special effect budget is going to be pretty significant to avoid looking like a cheap web-series parody of TOS. 

Termiinator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles was a great show. Firefly was a great show. BUT.. they also needed a LOT of viewers to justify the special effects budgets -- so those shows were constantly on the edge of being cancelled.

I can see a show like Community getting picked up as a "let's try this streaming thing" -- because the costs for producing it are mostly in the actors/writers salaries. 

Science fiction doesn't seem like the way to go to experiment with an exclusive streaming service... unless it's Black Mirror, I suppose....
Mitch Wagner 11/5/2015 | 4:54:09 PM
Boldly gone before

Trek has a history of disrupting the TV industry. When networks rejected TNG 30 years ago, the studio took it direct to syndication and busted open that model. 

As for the 2017 series: I wonder whether affiliates will balk at showing the pilot, since it promotes a series they're not going to get a piece of. 

Common Agenda 11/3/2015 | 12:11:41 PM
Say it ain't so Mari "I'll grant you that TNG doesn't hold up well in the modern era..."

Wait a minute. What? Totally holds up. Between Q and Data, Next Generation is the best series.
Susan Fourtané 11/3/2015 | 10:47:09 AM
Re: Bundles not inevitable And that's part of taking risk in business, Mitch. I think CBS may just get enough Star Trek fans to sign up for the service. -Susan
Susan Fourtané 11/3/2015 | 10:42:35 AM
Re: Star Trek Tech That's right, Mitch. Even teleporting particles is being tested in labs.-Susan
Mitch Wagner 11/3/2015 | 10:29:09 AM
Re: Bundles not inevitable Observing reactions on social media, I'm surprised to see how many people are seeing this launch as a kind of dirty trick or ripoff. 

It's business. CBS is hoping that enough people love Star Trek that they'll sign up for a $6/mo. service to watch it. Once they're on the service, CBS hopes, consumers will find enough to like that they'll stick around and keep paying. That's no a ripoff, it's just business. If CBS is wrong, their strategy will fail. 
Mitch Wagner 11/3/2015 | 10:27:26 AM
Re: Star Trek Tech Star Trek reflects the future because it shapes it. The early cell phones were inspired by The TV series communicators. 
Ariella 11/3/2015 | 8:19:33 AM
Re: Bundles not inevitable @danielcawrey I think much depends on customer expectations. I shared the news about teh streaming series on G+. One of my connections said that though she is a Star Trek fan, she can't see paying for access. However, my guess is that it may be a generational thing: those who grew up with free TV may think of this model as costing more. But those who already use subscription services for such entertainment would probably be fine with $5.99 a month.
Susan Fourtané 11/3/2015 | 6:55:26 AM
Star Trek Tech According to research commissioned by SOASTA, Star Trek is the sci-fi story that most accurately reflects the promise of the next wave of technology, including IoT and cloud computing. They have to keep this up to attract the new generations that like sci-fi but not neccessarily grew up with the previous Star Trek series. -Susan
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