‘Star Trek Discovery’ and The Slow Invasion of Streaming Services

Ten years ago, Netflix launched their online streaming service, effectively putting the nail in the coffin of Blockbuster and similar stores. Since then, streaming services have become almost ubiquitous. Nearly everyone has a subscription to Netflix, or Hulu, or both, among others. And rightfully so — both networks are teeming with great original content. Netflix has a variety of popular shows, like Master of None, House of Cards, Daredevil, Bojack Horseman, and their flagship mega-hit, Stranger Things. Hulu has had success with programs such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Casual, and 11.22.63. Both services have revived favorites such as Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, Full House, The Mindy Project — the list goes on and on.

With all these original programs and revivals, consumers are beginning to feel a certain loyalty to these streaming services. They are sometimes viewed as a higher medium than cable programming. When the time came for CBS to produce a new Star Trek series, it seemed like a chance for the cable network to stay competitive with these streaming giants. In September of this year, CBS premiered Star Trek Discovery exclusively on its CBS All Access Program.

The exclusive debut of Star Trek Discovery is a crucial moment on our way to a tipping point — which is the inevitable time when every cable network will have its own streaming services and paywalls, and the streaming market will become too saturated and too overwhelming for fans to keep paying for. Fans can only watch the series if they pay for CBS All Access — a streaming service which seems to be CBS’ attempt to challenge the success of Netflix and Hulu.

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Star Trek Discovery

Of course, core fans of the Star Trek series will gladly pay whatever CBS asks. But there are people, like myself, who likely wouldn’t. Most casual viewers who begin to evaluate whether or not CBS All Access is worth it ultimately decide that it isn’t because Discovery is the only notable program on the app exclusively; all the other big draws, such as The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, Big Brother, etc. are all accessible on cable. 

The key to success for networks launching streaming services will be to have acclaimed original programming. The exclusivity of shows like Star Trek Discovery will draw in subscribers, but it will take the consistent acclaim of originals which will keep them interested. At the moment, the majority of CBS All Access subscribers are likely subscribed only for Star Trek Discovery, but Netflix subscribers are paying for Stranger Things and House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and a plethora of shows by Marvel Studios. In the end, it’s just a better value.

There are a variety of opinions on the matter. An article from Forbes suggests that “if we don’t pay for the art we enjoy there will be no money for the art that we crave.” On the other hand, Lance Ulanoff from Mashable writes, “Still, am I ready to pay $72 per year to watch one incredibly well-produced show? … Soon, other networks will premiere fresh shows on ‘free’ broadcast and then shift them behind their pay walls. Eventually, the only things we’ll be able to watch for free will be news, home-shopping shows, and infomercials.”

The idea of paywalls and streaming services are by no means exclusive to CBS and Star Trek Discovery; Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are scheduled to launch a streaming service next year which will have new but highly anticipated programs with DC Comics characters such as Titans and Young Justice. Disney, after making a sizable deal with Netflix, has decided to make its own streaming service, set to launch in 2019. Disney’s streaming service is likely the only first-party streaming service that could be a substantial success — between the combined franchise power of Star Wars, Marvel Studios, and the Muppets, not to mention everything from Disney’s various animation studios. Disney’s streaming service is bound to succeed and inspire other conglomerates and networks to start their own. With Apple and Verizon looking to throw their hats into the ring, one begins to wonder if the streaming market is gradually becoming a little too saturated.

The primary concern is that every major network will have a project so successful that they decide it merits its own pay-to-view streaming service. Increasingly, this is seeming to become the norm. In an ideal world, all television programs would be broadcast in one place — cable — and there could be an on-demand streaming service which would allow customers to watch these shows at their own convenience. But Netflix and Hulu changed that with their original and exclusive programming. Now it seems all but certain that every new and unique program will be used to convince consumers to sign up for streaming services and accept things such as paywalls.

All this makes the people of a media-consuming culture wonder; what is the future of streaming services? Will there be a tipping point in which consumers are no longer interested in paying for everything? Or does the success of individual programs such as Star Trek Discovery or Stranger Things or The Handmaid’s Tale indicate the permanent appeal of streaming services? Only time — and more importantly, consumer interest — will tell.

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Saru and Cmdr. Michael Burnham, characters from Stark Trek Discovery

My prediction for the foreseeable future is that we will see more and more networks offering a streaming service that will have one or two exclusive programs to entice customers to spend money, and then hope they stay for all the other things they get, just to get their money’s worth. There’s a strong possibility that this will weaken companies like Netflix and Hulu, but as long as these companies continue to offer great originals and keep their prices reasonable, they should be able to stay competitive.

Ideally, the mass exodus to streaming services will form an economic bubble that will eventually pop as consumers get irritated of schilling out money for every network that decides to hide unique content behind a paywall. When customers grow tired of paying an additional price for each network, the bubble will pop, and streaming services will no longer be a viable investment. This is what makes Star Trek Discovery such a big moment; if it succeeds, it will provide a model to follow, and soon, we’ll be paying an additional price for every network.

Andrew Rainaldi

Andrew Rainaldi studies English at the University of Connecticut and strives to take an elevated, more analytical look at popular culture. 
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Andrew Rainaldi

Andrew Rainaldi studies English at the University of Connecticut and strives to take an elevated, more analytical look at popular culture. 

7 thoughts on “‘Star Trek Discovery’ and The Slow Invasion of Streaming Services

  1. Here in Australia, we have a premium cable service that shows many programs from the streamers, like Netflix, but apart from the movie channels – that show movies uninterrupted – and one channel that shows some ad-free programs and a BBC channel that shows all its programs ad-free, all the other channels are as bad as broadcast (free) TV, with either three or four ad breaks per hour program. For this reason, and the entry of several streamers into the market, we’re about to trim our cable packages and use the money for the two or three streamers that have shows we’d like to see. Included here is Netflix, which is finalizing its contract with the cable company and taking back the shows it owns that we were getting as part of our cable plan. Even with two or three streamers, we’ll end up saving money. The cable company’s monopoly is over. We’ll gladly pay for the convenience of watching a show when we’re ready to watch it, ad-free and devoid of other screen excrescences like watermarks, etc.

  2. “the streaming market will become too saturated and too overwhelming for fans to keep paying for”

    And this is what will boost piracy. Two well-known drivers of piracy are excessive cost and excessive difficulty. The fragmentation of content onto a multitude of pay services (many of which will not even be available in some jurisdictions) will directly lead to increased piracy, which will provide the same content without hassle.

    “core fans of the Star Trek series will gladly pay whatever CBS asks”

    This is not true. Aside from the piracy issue, there’s the simple fact that the STD story is not Trek. It’s a mediocre space opera nothing like Trek, wearing a see-through Trek skin… The most recent episode (Butcher’s Knife) was both ridiculous and disgusting and I think I’m done. Where’s the refund at?

    “if we don’t pay for the art we enjoy there will be no money for the art that we crave.”

    Forbes says this as if that’s a bad thing… We have the entire 20th century available to us (or we would, if people weren’t hoarding it, separating us from our own cultural heritage). 99% of what gets produced today is make-work and me-too. It wouldn’t be missed.

    “In an ideal world, all television programs would be broadcast in one place — [cough] — and there could be an on-demand streaming service which would allow customers to watch these shows at their own convenience”

    Realize that this exists already.

    I think a better system than the paywalls-and-piracy pair we have now (which depends on an expensive and hobbled distribution system) is more of a funding-and-feedback pair. Producers should seek more of their funding from fans before production even begins, giving the community of fan funders increased input and therefore personal investment into the project. This would certainly have corrected some of STD’s mistakes before they even happened, and maybe it might have launched on time. And on the tail end, allow other fans who enjoyed the show, however they came across it (including broadcast, including piracy) to pay directly to the producers what they feel that particular unit is worth to them. You could even gamify it, for example as a competition between fans of The Orville and STD.

  3. “CBS premiered Star Trek Discovery exclusively on its CBS All Access Program”

    This is only half true. The first half of the premiere (i.e. the first “episode”) was broadcast over regular CBS network television.

  4. It’s easy to discount the validity of the streaming service, to say that people won’t pay the $5.99-$14.99 a month for access.

    I think the current trend is for streaming services to take the place of broadcast services. I’ve been a “cord cutter” for about 10 years. Subscribing only to internet service. This actually ends up being cheaper in the long run even with the a-la-cart add-ons. I pay $79 a month for FIOS Gigabit service, then add HBO (14.99) Netflix (11.99) Hulu (11.99) and CBS (11.99) (I pay for the multi-stream Netflix and share it with my son who is away at college, and the ad-free versions of the rest) So for about $130/month I get everything I need.

    Now most people don’t need the gigabit connections (I work from home, so it suits me to have the best connection I can get) and can do this for much cheaper.

    Also, if you’re willing to wait for new content to hit Netflix (which it almost all eventually does) then you can save even more.

    This is a better system. Channels that produce good content stay around, channels that don’t get dropped and go away. It’s one of the few places that pure free-market capitalism works.

    The average cable package has something like 200+ channels, of which most people only watch about 5. The rest of these channels are paid for as a part of the package and have no impetus to get better. (Though I think there is no way to improve GolfTV or the Food Network, they’re lost causes)

    Like it or not, this is the nail in the coffin of broadcast TV, best get used to it.

  5. I am curious whether this will create an economic gap in the future for the poor. Once streaming services will become common and cable television goes into extinction, I am wondering whether the middle and upper classes will have more access to entertainment services whereas the poor class doesn’t. This is my speculation, but I am still wondering.

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