Star Trek is back. This week saw the launch of CBS's Star Trek: Discovery, a thrilling new series that's set shortly before the days of Kirk and Spock. Starring Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham, Discovery launched to an all-action premiere that's largely divided fans and critics alike.
Controversially, US viewers will need to subscribe to CBS's All Access streaming service if they want to boldly go where no one has gone before. In contrast, international viewers simply have to be subscribed to Netflix, who have the exclusive international distribution rights. It's led to a lot of heated debate over whether or not CBS is taking the right approach. With the first two episodes released, it's a perfect opportunity to look back and ask whether CBS's approach is paying off.
Good News For Star Trek Fans
Gone are the days when viewers only had to subscribe to one or two different streaming services. Now, pretty much every network is trying to get in on the act; In fact, we're only a year and a half away from Disney launching their own digital service, pulling all their films and TV shows from Netflix. In the case of CBS All Access, the service has been failing to impress fans as it hasn't even been loaded with the full catalog of historical CBS shows. Discovery is the first All Access exclusive offering. In an unusual move, CBS has also created a two-tier system where you can pay an extra $3 a month in order to avoid adverts.
The good news for All Access is that, by all accounts, Discovery was a remarkable success. Although the network hasn't revealed any official figures yet, they're claiming that the premiere of Discovery led to a record number of sign-ups. Given CBS offer a free trial period, of course, the real test will be whether or not people stick with the service. The odds are good; one of the reasons companies offer trial periods is because they know people tend to forget to cancel in the first place, or simply fall into a routine that they don't really want to change.
In even more positive news, the Discovery premiere drew in 9.6 million viewers. CBS Research projects that this figure will increase to more than 15 million viewers with seven-day delayed viewing, alongside an additional 5-10% with live +35 day viewing. Those viewing figures are excellent. If they translate to subscriptions, then Discovery will go down as a massive win for CBS.
But there are stormclouds on the horizon. The backlash against CBS's approach has been fierce, and as a result, a lot of fans are choosing to go down the piracy route. Within 24 hours of Discovery's release, it was already the #15 most-pirated episode on The Pirate Bay. Meanwhile, other fans are sharing passwords and logins to help one another out, while there's chatter on forums between fans who are waiting until the whole series is out, then intending to register for the trial month and do a binge-watch.
All signs are that the new #StarTrek series has been a real success for CBS, but it's worth noting that this whole debate raises an intriguing point about streaming services. With traditional network releases, we can carefully and critically evaluate a show's success and popularity. After all, we have the viewing figures to check out. Streaming services like CBS All Access and Netflix jealously guard that kind of information, refusing to give us a sense of just how a show is performing. As a result, it will be very difficult indeed for fans to work out whether Discovery has paid off for the network or not in the long-term.