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?
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.
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