CBS trying to leverage Star Trek as crudely as possible

posted in: TV | 0

If you’ve not heard yet, here are some links.  The short version is CBS is launching a new Star Trek series in January 2017, about fourteen months from now.

Normally, that they’re putting it online in a streaming format would be good news.  Hardly anyone actually likes Cable TV; it’s overpriced, expensive, and getting moreso on a constant basis.  Except CBS is not going with the known streaming options; they’re using Star Trek’s fan base to act as a huge piece of leverage to crowbar their own streaming service — CBS All Access — into the market.

$6 per month is actually a mostly reasonable price, assuming you like the shows in the library.  Most of the library is only going to be of real interest to dedicated fans of tv history, or older fans; since the library consists of older shows like Cheers and MacGyver, and the original Star Trek from 1966.  Here’s where the good news about the ‘service’ stops though.  First and most ridiculously, all current shows are streamed with advertising.  Yes, that’s right; you pay a monthly fee and still have to sit through advertising.  Worse, because you have to sign up, hardly anyone on the service won’t be data-parsed down into the smallest of boxes once they’ve given up information like their name, address, credit card number, and so forth; that advertising will be going for a premium price due to the exacting known nature of the watchers of each show.

So, let’s assume you’re okay with paying for the right to have tailored advertising thrown in your face.  Moving on, the current shows are only current for the current season.  So you can’t back up to last season’s offerings of a show you’ve just started watching, or one you’ve been watching and want to spend some time going back through for whatever reason.  It is a safe bet to say CBS wants the fee plus advertising, but doesn’t want to interfere with any DVD sales or syndication deals; so recent history of shows will still be locked behind those existing paywalls and/or advertising formats.  Start watching Cool New Show, and you’ll have to pay outside the service to get caught up to where your $6 + ads has you in the same place as existing fans.

We also don’t know what CBS’ intentions for the new Star Trek are going to be.  Will they drop a whole season in Jan’17, or will they dole it out one episode per week?  Either leads to lots of problems for either fans or the service, because I think we all know CBS has its own expectations for what fans should have to ultimately pay to get the full show.

If they drop the whole season, that would go against everything CBS has spent decades doing with its scheduled airings of content.  So fans will be paying $6 + ads to get one episode a week.  And, since CBS is a television network, they keep their own schedule.  American TV schedules only ever show new content week-to-week at the very beginning and end of a season, and during ‘sweeps’.  In other words, four weeks doesn’t equal four new episodes.  The ‘traditional’ TV season is September through May of the next  year, or eight months.  That’s roughly 32 weeks that sees about 22 episodes (some shows might be 18 or 20, some might be 24) stretched across the whole period.  That means you have weeks where there’s no new content.  When you’re paying, and you have to wait through weeks of no new episodes . . . that’s a fuck you to fans if they do it like that.

Assuming CBS follows that same formula of new episode releases, fans will have to stay subscribed for eight months.  Now it’s $6 + ads for eight months, or $48 + eight months worth of ads.  They could also easily stretch the show out further, possibly even across the full year to avoid any sort of ‘summer break’ where fans might lose interest and unsubscribe.  If the full year is required to get all the episodes, that’s $72 + ads.  And remember, since Star Trek will be a current show, the service’s existing format takes shows off of streaming (i.e., they’re not available) after a few weeks — maybe a couple of months — of their premier.  So if you start watching in, say, May, you wouldn’t have access back to the beginning of the show in January, if CBS does this.

If CBS does follow the modern streaming model — i.e. Netflix — then Jan’17 would see the whole season go up on the service.  Fans would then be able to pay for January’s subscription, watch everything, and then bail until next year when a new season shows up.  From CBS’ perspective, there’s a big difference between getting nearly $50 + ads per subscriber, and only $6 + ads per subscriber.  The executives will likely be pretty pissed if that happens.  But fans will likely be equally pissed if the weekly release schedule is enforced, which would require them to stay subscribed and keep paying and sitting through ads.  Streaming consumers are used to binge, watch-on-demand, and having pure content without ads.

Either way this goes for CBS, furor is likely the safe bet.  It’s really only a question of whether it’ll be CBS moaning or fans; but someone is likely going to be sulking.  And since CBS has control, if they get to a point where they’re sulking they’ll likely change things so they’re happy and that means — however things start — ultimately it’ll be fans on the short end of the stick.

I’m a fan of progress.  And I am a fan of Star Trek.  A good series back ‘on the air’ — an expression that is rapidly going the way of ‘records’ or ‘taping’ in meaning something other than it initially did by a literal definition — would be fantastic.  Science Fiction gets far too short a shrift in the modern content economy, ignored by the networks in favor of drivel like yet another police procedural or hospital soap opera.  Or worse, being infected by these same trite concepts to ruin otherwise excellent shows; see the current Minority Report or Limitless shows, both of which could have been nice fun science fiction that have been turned into — you guessed it — police procedurals.

But CBS is fumbling this thing, and we’re still fourteen months out.  Netflix charges about $11 a month for a huge library, and has new content — not just new-to-the-service content that comes from elsewhere, but actual original content — popping up all the time.  And it delivers pure content, no ads.  Look around, ask around, check into what people say about Hulu, and the number one thing you hear complaints about are the ads.  Hulu charges a fee, and still forces ads on you.  The number two complaint about Hulu is how a lot of ‘new’ content drops off after a few weeks.  Hulu only streams a ‘new’ episode for roughly a month before it vanishes.

Streaming is the future.  But turning streaming into a copy of cable television is not the way to get there.  If ‘everyone’ copies CBS, we’ll end up with . . . how many studios are there?  I don’t feel like looking the exact number up or trying to predict who might get together in amalgamated deals.  Let’s just say five; let’s say we’ll have five studio streaming ‘channels’ a decade from now.  Rather than all the various studios throwing their content at the five ‘big’ tv networks, they produce and throw all of it on five streaming channels they control.  If they all do what CBS is doing, that’ll be five times $6, or thirty dollars a month.  Plus your Netflix subscription so you get those original shows and some movies, plus HBO for more originals plus movies, and a consumer of video is now looking at a bill around $50 to $60 plus their actual internet fee.  And if some of these extended cable channels — like AMC or FX — get into the action, ‘five’ could easily be seven or ten or more.

And they’ll still have to fucking put up with ads!!!!!!  Yes, I just overused a lot of fucking exclamation points.  On purpose!

Charging to show ads completely misses the point.  Windowing the show on the streaming service misses the point.  And dividing all of them into separate services also misses the point.  If followed to a logical conclusion, we’ll end up with something like what Hollywood and movie theaters looked like in the 30s and 40s; with a movie studio directly controlling theaters and refusing to let anyone else play on their screens.  So if you lived in a town without a Paramount theater, you’d miss Indiana Jones; no Fox screen and no Star Wars.  Except we have the Internet, so you wouldn’t have to exactly miss it; but you’d have to subscribe to a dozen or more services.  And if they all play ‘window’ games, it will be hard to try and stay frugal and only pop in and out of the services you need to just to get the one or two shows you might want.

This is not the way CBS.  You’re trying to turn Star Trek fans into human crowbars, and it sucks; dangling Star Trek like a baited hook to troll the streaming waters.  As I outline above, I really don’t believe you won’t bow to your greed and set the service up to milk us as far as you feel you can get away with.  You’re not really going to make the show binge-watchable, because you want to milk each fan for more than a single month’s subscription.  And by windowing it, you’re going to separate and divide the fans out.  You’re going to drive people to torrents.

And then you’ll whine about how fans aren’t “supporting” the show.  Because, yeah, who wants to put up with a reoccurring subscription they don’t want except for the one show?

Here’s a free idea to all of Hollywood.  If you’re going to insist on playing these sorts of games with streaming, group things by genres.  So there could be the police procedural service, and the hospital soap service, and the general soap opera service, and the sitcom service, and the sci-fi service.  Don’t force us to sift through crap we don’t like or want to get at the one or two things we do just because you need to dangle chum through the water to hook a broad spectrum of consumers to your service.  Consumers don’t want to be paying eight or ten or fifteen streaming bills each month.  Let us subscribe by areas of interest; set yourselves up to truly be for fans, rather than just running a milking line.

Launching streaming Star Trek as the headline of a sci-fi streaming service would be a great idea.  Even if you’d still insist on shoving fucking ads down our throats.  At least then there’d be a real chance of the service having other stuff to make it worth the fee.

But as it stands, unless CBS wises up and announces some changes in the next fourteen months, I have a feeling that come March 2017 we’ll be seeing a raft of articles by confused CBS executives blaming fans for not ‘supporting’ the service.

Do the right thing CBS.  Be honest.  Be fair.  Stop being greedy bastards.  I mean, seriously; you’ll still get to sell DVD box sets and complete season downloads, merchandising; all of these other revenue streams will still be available.  Why do you have to turn the first-run rights into a minefield of misery for fans?