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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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. 
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
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.
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. 
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