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New Star Trek Series Beaming to Streaming

Mari Silbey
11/2/2015

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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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
11/2/2015 | 5:27:04 PM
Bundles not inevitable
I'm not sure that bundles are the inevitable future of video. Historically, we've tried many different means of selling media: Individual books, books by subscription (in the 19th Century you ordered a book in advance and THEN the publisher printed it), magazines and newspapers by the copy and subscription, radio plus individual singles and LPs for music, free ad-supported TV, individual ticket movie sales, and more that I'm probably not thinking of. 

What is it our colleague Brian Santo says? Consumers will get unbundled cable TV, and you won't like it when they do. 

As for me personally:

- I really need to go through our DVR subscription list and see what channels we're paying for that we're not using. Like you, I think we're probably only subscribed to HBO for GAME OF THRONES (and I'm thinking of breaking up with GoT -- its' become too relentlessly gloomy). 

- I'm a Star Trek:TOS fan. Something about velour sweaters and Beatle boots that I dig. 
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
11/2/2015 | 10:09:30 PM
Re: Bundles not inevitable
I totally think CBS is on to something here. There is certainly video content that has a devoted fanbase, and many of those people are willing to pay for content they love. 

I'm a fan of NFL football, for example. So I pay for the Sunday Ticket package from DirectTV that allows me to watch whatever Sunday day game I want to. It's worth it to me. Same as this CBS package will be for Trekkies. 
Ariella
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.
Mitch Wagner
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. 
Susan Fourtané
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
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
11/2/2015 | 6:22:31 PM
Cause for concern
Vox's Matt Yglesias is worried (50% of this is relevant to our readers):

Star Trek is returning with a new TV series — on a streaming service nobody uses

CBS is the most old-school and mass-markety of the television networks — home to megahit The Big Bang Theory and a million generic police procedurals. You can see why that might make it want to try something different with the Star Trek approach, but it also means that it's not clear that the network really has the know-how or institutional culture to get a streaming TV series done.

And Kurtzman's contribution to the franchise as a screenwriter has been precisely to water down what's uniquely Trek about Trek in favor of a more broadly appealing sci-fi romp. Star Trek's return to television should be a triumphant moment for the franchise's fans, but it might be the nail in the coffin that ensures that the unique tone set by Gene Roddenberry ends up firmly buried beneath generic action/adventure space cowboy stories.
inkstainedwretch
inkstainedwretch
11/2/2015 | 7:18:18 PM
Re: Cause for concern
I was an early cord-cutter and this cannot be said often enough: if you watch a lot of TV, the big bundle is a really excellent deal. Skinny bundles can be a better deal than a la carte, depending on what you watch. Mitch and Mari are onto something when they observe how more OTT sources are coming up with desirable original content, and that's both good and bad -- good because you get what you want, but bad because there IS NO WAY to bundle that content. You have to pile up the subscriptions, and when you do that, you quickly end up paying more for a handful of services/shows than you did for that big evil bundle. This is what I mean when I say that when people finally get a la carte, a lot of them are not going to be happy with it at all. And don't get me started on ad creep.

-- Brian Santo
mhhf1ve
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! 
Susan Fourtané
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
Mitch Wagner
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. 
Susan Fourtané
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
Common Agenda
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.
Mitch Wagner
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. 

mhhf1ve
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....
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