Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 2)

Yesterday, I began by noting that there were a number of Trek fans who believed that CBS was somehow in a “panic” about the poor performance of Star Trek: Discovery, and that there was some kind of pressure being put onto the production team to retool the series, possibly bringing in the USS Enterprise to somehow replace the USS Discovery…or some nonsense like that.

It’s true that, at best, Star Trek: Discovery is just about breaking even for CBS…or possibly losing a few million dollars.  I didn’t do all the math yesterday as I ran out of space, but I’ll do it quickly here for you.

Since last September when Discovery premiered, CBS All Access has added approximately 500,000 new subscribers (going from 2 million to 2.5 million).  I learned that the majority of those subscribers were actually tuning into the NFL on All Access and not Discovery, but let’s assume that they all joined because CBS added a new Star Trek show.

All Access allows subscribers to watch with commercials for $6/month or without for $10/month.  Let’s average that to $8/month.  Discovery was on for five months:

 [  5 months x $8/month x 500,000 subscribers = $20 million   ]

As I mentioned yesterday, Discovery cost CBS about $30 million to produce (the portion not covered by Netflix licensing).

So how does Discovery break even if it’s losing $10 million?  Advertising.  Also, not all of those subscribers canceled after 5 months, so the revenue continues.  In other words, Discovery is doing just fine as far as CBS is concerned.

On the other hand, the license to stream the NFL on All Access likely cost CBS upwards of $250 million…and there’s no way they didn’t lose money on that deal!  So why keep throwing major bucks into All Access if you’re CBS?  Hasn’t this experiment essentially failed?

And to make matters worse, this is how All Access looks when measured up against Netflix and Hulu subscribers (and this is only in the U.S. alone)…

YEESH!  Sucks to be CBS, right?  So why not put All Access out of its misery?  Why bother keeping Star Trek: Discovery on the air and losing money on the NFL?

There’s a very simple reason…

“PARDON OUR DUST”

CBS knows that All Access is still essentially “under construction.”  The pie isn’t finished baking yet.  Few businesses launch into the stratosphere in their first year or two…or even five.  It takes time to find, attract, and build an audience.

Also, CBS is far ahead of ABC, NBC, FOX, and all of the smaller networks like the CW, AMC, TNT, USA, etc.  Yes, NBC and FOX were the ones who started Hulu, but that’s a jointly-owned venture, with Disney and TimeWarner having later bought ownership stakes, as well.  CBS owns and controls All Access outright…and they get to keep 100% of the subscription revenue (which is likely somewhere between about $150-$250 million per year plus advertising).

So even though Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime were first out of the starting gate and CBS is playing catch-up, the other networks are playing catch-up with CBS!  Even Disney is still only in the set-up stages for its streaming-video-on-demand service (scheduled to launch next near).  The other networks…even farther behind.

Of course, nearly everyone expects Disney’s streaming service to blow away All Access simply because of the content.  Disney will have its 80-year library of classic children’s films from Snow White through Lion King through Coco…plus all of the Marvel movies and, of course, everything Star Wars related.  In comparison, CBS All Access has stuff like The Brady Bunch, CSI, Big BrotherThe Twilight Zone, The Price Is RightI Love Lucy, 60 Minutes, Scorpion, FrasierThe Young and the Restless, Superior Donuts, and The Big Bang Theory…plus the Grammys, Tonys, and Emmys and, of course the NFL.  Oh, and they have Star Trek (all television series).

Now CBS isn’t under any delusion that their service has a chance against Disney’s at the moment.  But that’s why CBS is trying to grow and expand their variety of offerings…especially when it comes to unique content that is available exclusively to All Access subscribers (and possibly Netflix subscribers in other countries).

And now I’m hungry!

And Star Trek: Discovery is part of that plan.  That’s why CBS is NOT panicking about its performance.  Star Trek: Discovery is doing exactly what it always needed to to: carry the name Star Trek and look like a good show.  It didn’t need to BE a good show (although that would certainly be preferable), but it did need to LOOK good…like the photo of the steak on the ad for the restaurant.

Granted, CBS would have loved for Discovery to become a huge hit and generate surprisingly strong new subscription numbers, but they always knew they were facing a fierce headwind in trying to create a new customer behavior: subscribing to a service with no major movies to offer, mostly reruns and only limited original content, AND having to watch commercials in exchange for a slight discount.  Oh, and no binge-watching of new series; their new episodes would get released weekly, not all at once.  Such an idea was going to likely take a while to catch on (if it catches on at all).

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE NAME

But while the idea of All Access was catching on, CBS knew it needed to actually be offering original content on the service…otherwise, all it had would be 50 years of reruns (old and recent) plus the Grammys, Tonys, and Emmys (not even the Oscars!).  That’s why the NFL was such an important license to get…even if CBS lost money on it.  And that’s also why Star Trek was always vital, as well.

In this way, yes, Star Trek is a giant.  Compared to the other original All Access scripted programming, there’s not much else with such established name recognition.  Big Brother: Over the Top (which is simply the 24/7 version of Big Brother), that’s not exactly “scripted” programming.  Neither is AfterTrekThe Good Fight is a scripted drama and serves as a spin-off of The Good Wife, but that series doesn’t have the 50-year pedigree of Star Trek.

What else is there on All Access?  Not much!  Ironically, their only other established scripted drama at the moment is called (wait for it, wait for it) No Activity. Then a new series called Living Biblically premieres this week.  CBS will also be releasing new series Strange Angel and $1 at some point “soon.”

Yep, they really did leave all that white space totally empty.

So, yeah, if you look at the above screen capture from the All Access website, the original offerings look pretty sparse…hardly worth six or ten bucks a month (unless you want the NFL and lots of reruns, too…or unless you’re a die-hard Trekkie or a super-fan of Big Brother or The Good Wife).  And CBS knows this.  They’re building a library, and these are just the first books on the shelves.

That’s why Star Trek: Discovery was going to get renewed no matter how it did—from rocketing success to abysmal failure.  CBS needs original content on All Access, and canceling Star Trek: Discovery after only one season would have accomplished the exact opposite…AND lost them the most recognizably branded name on their roster.

STEADY AS SHE GOES

So yeah, some Trekkers are imagining (fantasizing?) that executives at CBS are pacing the floor, panicking about whether or not the Star Trek fans want the series to feel more like traditional TOS, or whether the producers brought in the USS Enterprise at the very end as a way to “transition” the series away from the USS Discovery and/or change the design back to something closer to what came before.  Predictions about how CBS is going to retool this series abound on social media, in blog posts, and on video podcasts like Midnight’s Edge.

While networks do, on rare occasions, retool a struggling series, there’s two reasons NOT to do so:

  1. It costs money (for new sets, new costumes, finding new main actors—all of which can also take up valuable time).
  2. It often creates a feeling of instability for both the production team and for the viewers.

While the Discovery producers and CBS haven’t revealed the per-episode budget for next year, it’s doubtful to be much higher than this year, and likely a bit lower.  Discovery already has a lot of capital invested in sets, costumes, and actors (and their characters), and it would be a poor business decision by anyone at CBS to choose to re-spend many of those start-up dollars all over again on re-inventing the wheel.

As for instability, that’s the last thing CBS wants to introduce into All Access.  The ship needs to be steering a steady, confident course forward.  Any signs of weakness or uncertainty (like suddenly shifting the entire focus of an established series that’s getting a lot of press) presents the wrong image to the current and potential subscribers.  They want to know what to expect for their subscription dollars.


Look, folks, I’ve been as critical of Discovery as anyone, and I would certainly love to see some changes to the show.  And actually, I do expect a few.  I suspect we’ll see a slightly less frenetic pace to the stories in season two and more focus on really exploring the characters now that they’ve been introduced and put through the wringer.

But I don’t for one second expect the series to suddenly jump into hewing more closely to traditional TOS or to see the Enterprise replace the Discovery or even join her for more than a few short episodes (and then perhaps return later in the season for another limited story arc).  I’m sure we’ll love seeing Captain Pike and members of his crew (maybe Spock?), but I think it’s extremely long odds that the series will suddenly shift to focusing on an entirely new crew.  Sure, we might get a new prominent character or two (the ship could sure use another doctor), but that’s the nature of second seasons.  I highly doubt any of the established characters (Burnham, Saru, Stamets, Tilly, and the bridge officers whose names you can never remember…except Detmer; people remember that one) will be tossed out the airlock any time soon.

Look, CBS knows All Access is a work-in-progress.  But they fully expect their subscriber base to keep growing steadily over the next few years.  And rather than mucking about trying to overhaul any of their current offerings, CBS is much more likely working to keep things consistent and let these series strengthen as they build their audiences.  Twenty-five percent subscriber growth in All Access in less than a year is just fine to start with.  Could it have been better?  Yeah.  But as that CBS employee said, the executives are VERY satisfied with Discovery right now…and I have no doubt whatsoever that that is true.

 

33 thoughts on “Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 2)”

  1. And this all goes back to the silly question: Why did CBS kill Axanar? They could have had it, made the movie the series Premier, and had episodes written of the Klingon war, flashbacks to the Romulan war,TOS derived stories and done it way on the cheap, which would have REALLY bolstered their position as they wpuld have had bothe the new fans and the old. As Les Moonves said in Variety, “It was important to have original content, he added, noting that consumers were willing to pay for the service because “Star Trek” has “a built-in fanbase that was pretty emphatic.” which seems rather out of touch with the fan community, but no big surprise. Moreover the key statement was “Streaming is changing that, said Moonves, noting that All Access is helping attract younger crowds and that the average age of viewers on the platform is about 20 years younger than the broadcast audience.” Meaning “You oldsters out there, hit the road and enjoy your DVD reruns, cause that is all you will ever get, you are not on our “important people” list”. By killing off fan films, and skewing to the “new” fans of JJ Trek and this NuTrek, they have effectively severed the ties between traditional Trek and the NuTrek, closing the door to any future series, since they don’t seem to care about the old fans, just the new. Good job CBS.

      1. That may be the way Hollywood works, but that is like ignoring Elon Musk as just an “amateur” rocket enthusiast. You take results where they are found, and to ignore it is to impose your agenda on the fans. Of course, people say they owe the fans nothing, but when you have spent 50 years inserting yourself, and raking in money from, the fans, I believe there is a moral obligation to support them as they supported you. I think that goes to the heart of the angst people feel towards CBS and Disco, that it has become a “take what we deign to give you, give us your money” relationship. They use the excuse of IP and copyright to then defend their position. Much like a life saving drug only available at 1000 dollars a dose, and the company only makes enough for 20% of the patients, and uses copyright and patents as their justification, when the drug they are selling has actually been around for 50 years. I realize there is no real way around it, except to say “bye bye” to NUTrek and let it go it’s way. The Expanse is way better made and scripted, and I am hoping the expansion of services means more independents will find the rich field of sci fi to great use.

      1. In general, CBS is embracing the older viewer demographic on their main broadcast network, as those over 50 (like me) aren’t cutting our cords. But the young ‘uns, well, CBS wants those cord cutters to add All Access to their SVOD viewing services. So yeah, All Access is trying to appeal to a younger audience in general.

    1. CBS cannot buy a fanfilm to get content “on the cheap”. the main reason why professional productions are so costly is that they need to meet all the union agreements and other requirements they have. They cannot cut corners. They have to do things you don’t even think about like multi-language support, dolby mastering, and subtiling. It’s not something two guys on a macbook do. Also, the whole 90 min axanar movie was suposed to cost a few millions I think, as the crowd funding that was done was only for the first third. It’s a myth they were ready to go for the whole 90min production for the $1.5M they had up to then. There was going to be more crowd funding ahead to get the last two parts.

      Then, you still wouldn’t have payed for all access anyway because you want it for free on tv. So.. moot debate, anyway

      1. I would throw the penalty flag on the idea CBS could not buy it, Granted it would have cost some money to come up to all the agreements, deals, and other minutia of Hollywood, unions, companies want. They could have paid that and co-opted the materials and generated it as a series with much less cost than they are into now. All the evidence seems to point to wanting to move away from TOS (Up through Voyager) and start a whole new NuTrek, without all the baggage of canon to stick to, and hope it takes. Along the way they will pick up a new generation of fans, but it took 20 years for TOS to get into a strong position, and it will be 20 more for NuTrek.

        1. If I go to Tesla with my own design for an electric car, they don’t have to use it. Even if I’ve been a loyal Tesla owner for decades and was inspired to take their design and make it “better.” In fact, there’s a lot of engineers there who are probably saying, “Let him start his own electric car company. Just don’t call it Tesla and don’t use our design.”

          1. Jonathan, I must offer a different take on the Tesla example. Tesla stops making cars for 25 years, I build a kit car that acts like a Tesla, and has their name on it, and I do it for $2,000. I market it to Tesla enthusiasts. I give credit to Tesla for the inspiration and idea and clearly say this is an immitation Tesla to those who always wanted to drive one. Tesla sues me, until I run out of money, so not kit car. Tesla builds a Mack Truck and markets it as the “New Tesla”. You want a Tesla? Buy the truck or shut up. Time to go to Toyota. Even then, we are stretching this because we are talking about physical pieces, which is a different dynamic from entertainment, but I feel that more accurately represents the way things have gone. Not trying to be rude here, just my perspective on this craziness.

          2. I’m not sure that helps your argument, my friend. The Tesla name and brand still belongs to Tesla. You’ve infringed on their trademark. There was no nominal fair use in play. (In other words, you’re not a mechanic specializing in fixing Teslas and therefore need to use the Tesla name to describe your service.) Instead, you created your own product and tried to brand it with the name and goodwill that Tesla has built up with their customer base. You’re creating confusion in the marketplace and taking their brand identity to places they might not want to take it. If Tesla wants to build trucks, that’s their right to do with their brand as they wish. And if you want to build electric cars like Tesla did, then go for it. You just can’t use their name, trademarks, or patents. That’s the way things have worked in America for centuries, Brian.

            Fn films have no inherent “right” to exist unless they are judged to be fair use. That said, they are a unique entity, quite unlike a car kit that copies Tesla. They are a fan expression of love that, for the most part, does not make profit. (Are you planning to give away free cars, Brian?) Fan films are distributed for free online. Yes, there can be crowd-funding. And not everyone involved in fan films can afford to work for free. But if they’re working for a fraction of what they usually charge (as the STC team did), then it’s not really “profit.” Those folks are losing money if they’re only getting paid 10% of what they could have earned otherwise.

            But even then, fan films could still be considered a form of infringement. It’s far from a slam-dunk…as the Axanar case proved. But the question to ask then and now is: should studios embrace fan films (like Disney does) or crack down on them? Even if they infringe, they also keep the fans excited and engaged. Legally, the studios are well within their rights to sue. But in terms of marketing, it might not be the best choice.

          3. Nice reply and good counter argument. Thank you. I did say “25 years after they stopped making them” which diminishes any possibility of damage. However, your last paragraph is the crux of the whole matter and I think gets to the heart of a lot of feelings for Trek: The way they relate and handle fan films. 2 distinct examples you give and that is the real heart of it. Thank you, sir.

  2. Ah, this is why you held back my comment. I sort of stepped on your toes, didn’t I. Yet as I said before Discovery is still on course for cancellation and the signs are there. I don’t know if I like Midnight’s Edge constant rumor mill and I’ve since stop sourcing it just because I don’t see corroborating evidence or revelatory results from that speculation. Nonetheless The Fourth Star Trek Movie push may have more to do with Paramount both companies realize they feed each other. The 1 Year hiatus will reduce the amount of subscribers just like standard neilson ratings, and your speculation numbers are likely exaggerated. That increase of .5 million subscribers is DRAMATICALLY lower to what they were hoping for. Their initial projections were that they would get to 4 million subscribers. So they are down 3.5 million. I agree they won’t put more money into but that might be a death spiral. Discovery wasn’t really planned from the beginning. It was rushed and we all knows it shows.

    1. I held back your comment, Michaeux, mostly because it was long and I was really busy yesterday…and I like to give all comments enough time to read, consider, and respond to if necessary.

      As for CBS’s projections of 4 million subscribers, that’s intended to be by 2020. Now, I’m not saying that they can definitely get there, but they are adding more content and there are more cord cutters every day. If they had 25% growth from late 2017 to early 2018 in about six months, there’s the potential for 50% growth per year. If so, then by next February, All Access might have 3.75 million subscribers. And by February of 2020, the total could be 5.6 million…well over the 4 million projected.

      Of course, that assumes a lot–including no subscriber atrophy during that time and a consistent 50% growth per year. Neither is a given nor even very likely. But then again, my prediction hits 5.6 million. Maybe they can still get to 4 million…or at least close.

      Oh, and Discovery wasn’t rushed, per se. Remember that the debut date was pushed back twice. They’ve taken their time with this series. The majority of delays actually came because of tax credits and other incentives offered by Toronto to filmmakers and studios resulting in a shortage of skilled labor in the area. (Shhhhh…most people don’t know about that.) 🙂

  3. Well, nice cheerleading for CBS Jonathan. And you may be right on a few things. However, you have much speculative assertions, based on one
    “Loyal Employee” who knows what side his bread is buttered on. The biggest problem for All Access, is the poor numbers they will generate on renewals for season 2. And the fact that Netflix is extremely unhappy with the product they bought into. So, I believe CBS HAS TO reduce production costs, which ironically, may bring better stories in the future. Perhaps more of the “banter” you desire so much, as do many others.

    But??? If they refuse to try and win back early subscribers , or more importantly, win over long time fans, then they MUST make some serious changes. What those will be, well, maybe only “Q” knows?

    1. I haven’t heard any reliable confirmation that Netflix is unhappy. That might be another example of “I want to believe.” The thing about production costs for season two is that most of the expensive stuff is now paid for: the sets! As long as they don’t build out the entire interior of the USS Enterprise, production costs for season 2 should be lower in general. Also, fewer Klingons in the season means major savings on make-up, costumes, and prosthetics.

      As for bringing back subscribers, they pretty much did that. Did you happen to catch that familiar starship that appeared in the last ten seconds of the season 1 finale? That was done for one main reason: to get the subscribers back for season 2.

    1. What information sources? I referenced the media articles, and I can’t identify the fellow from CBS without getting him into deep doo-doo. What information wasn’t sourced, Edward?

  4. Why does it always seem there are people around who feel the need to turn a nice informative article inside out and make it into something it was not meant to be? I keep hearing that those of us who don’t agree with what Axanar did are the ‘haters’ but what I often read is directly the opposite.

      1. Come on Jonathan, the comment just before mine was what I was referring to and I think it was obvious what I was referring to. Look at his angry answer in response to what you said. In my opinion it also got you to make your last comment about the presence of the Enterprise is the end of the episode was meant for nothing but fan service when it was as exciting time for all of us and likely planned as the end of the season for over 2 years.
        I’m just saying that even when you say something positive your fans feel the need to attack.

        1. Because you weren’t replying to the previous comment, Ed, your comment wasn’t grouped with that one. In other words, it “floated,” and my dashboard doesn’t allow me to trace a floating comment back to another comment. Only hitting “reply” under the comment you’re referring to does that. Hence, my confusion and question.

          As for the epilogue for the first season, no, that wasn’t planned out for two years. The reason is that, initially, Star Trek: Discovery was not necessarily envisioned to continue for more than one season. Bryan Fuller’s original concept was for season one to take place just prior to TOS and deal with the first Klingon war. The second season would jump forward in time to just prior to TNG and the peace with the Klingons and look at the events that led to the cessation of hostilities and the formation of an actual alliance. Then a third season would jump forward beyond the Dominion War to a time when the alliances in the Alpha Quadrant would have shifted radically. (This is from Fuller’s interview in Entertainment Weekly.)

          Also, few fans seem to recall these comments by Discovery producer Akiva Goldsman back in October where he said Discovery is in its own little universe and that fans would never see Spock on the series:

          https://www.polygon.com/tv/2017/10/18/16500810/star-trek-discovery-continuity-original-series

          And to be honest, the producers had no idea if the series would even be renewed for a season two until season one had been written and filmed. For a little while, there was talk of replacing the series with a new Trek series from Nicholas Meyer and making Discovery more of an anthology. So Discovery was originally written with an ending (hopeful and open-ended, of course), not a cliffhanger.

          If you look at the timeline, filming wrapped on Discovery’s first season on October 12. Its renewal was announced October 23. Most likely, once they knew this, they quickly wrote an enticing epilogue and filmed it while the cast was still in Toronto to do pick-ups, ADR, and reshoots. The entire scene could be filmed on a single set (the bridge), likely in a single day. Once in the cam, VFX could be added to show the Enterprise approaching, and the entire episode could be edited to include the new final scene.

          As for my fans (I have fans????) feeling the “need to attack,” I don’t take it that way (usually). This is a place of discussion, debate, and sharing ideas. I might not always be right…as much as it might seem like I’m convinced I am. 🙂

          And hey, I might even be wrong about when the writers decided to add the Enterprise to the end of season one (but I doubt it). 😉

  5. Jonathan, the biggest question to answer is over the long term, with everybody trying to make different content to distinguish their streaming service, and with all the big media companies having their own service, it’s going to get to the point where the bills are going to mount up, just like cable tv. When that happens, people are going to pick and choose. Then the companies will have to specialize in particular genres for each service, or somebody, like a new type of hulu will have to agregate the service for a bottom line price that people can reasonably afford, or maybe both, or possibly something totally different again like the changes from broadcast to cable to streaming.

    1. Yep. The networks are terrified, and All Access is a desperate hail Mary pass into the end zone for CBS. The question becomes, however, is someone moving the goalposts?

      1. Is it a desperate move or is it just a smart early move on the part of CBS? What happens when Disney removes all Star Wars and C/P remove all Trek from Netflix and Hulu? The other movie studios are also starting their own streaming services and will remove most of their products as well, therefore I think we are going to see a rather large dip in these service’s subscribers as well and soooner rather than later.

        PS. The question I had about background was when you mentioned the NFL. I haven’t read that it was so important to All Access. Of course Football fans might be too dumb to remember to cancel after the season is over!! (Just kidding! )

        1. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are fast developing their own content. Earlier tonight, I was watching “The Crown.” Earlier this week, I was watching “Stranger Things.” I don’t expect any of the large SVOD services to see any noticeable dips anytime in the near future. People aren’t going to Netflix simply to watch Star Trek and Star Wars, y’know!

  6. Jonathan,

    I know that is in the all access plans but currently, On my Ipad/IPhone and Fire-stick. There is nothing dedicated to “Sports” there’s a sports app but that’s separate. NBA March Madness and all that is kind of a CBS thing, to my mind. So I expected that to be there. I am however sure you can view all that through the local affiliate option. (which is really nothing)

    As of right now All Access continues to be substandard. One of the best examples of this is that They are streaming the old Star Trek from before it was remastered. Which I would be fine with if they gave people the option. But when your paying you should certainly get the best available picture/sound/spfx.

    Personally I find the Midnight’s Edge – Reasoned, informed, and i feel that he tries to do his due diligence. That is of course my opinion, but I don’t really see that guy as concocting videos together with mad science!

    Getting any sort of numbers from CBS is pretty much like Voodoo…

    So ya know who do ya trust?

    I will say this, I was glad to hear the acknowledgement that there’s more important things than Star Trek.

    The Best thing CBS can do is to make things better, and a little more worth the price of admission. in time for Season 2. But as far as getting in my pocket book goes. you can tell them for me, it’s gonna be a long dry summer! lol

    1. A quick rant, if I may. So my wife wanted to introduce our son to “The Brady Bunch.” Hey, it’s on All Access! Let’s just watch it there. (I said this while still subscribed.) The series was there, all right…just not all of it. Only about half to two thirds of “The Brady Bunch” episodes are on All Access! In fact, the pilot (featuring Mike and Carol’s wedding) isn’t even available to watch!!! Jayden couldn’t actually see how this group had somehow formed a family! I mean, c’mon! “ALL” Access? Hardly! Now we watch episodes on Hulu.

      So yeah, the fact that only the original, non-remeasured TOS episodes are available doesn’t surprise me, but it does disappoint. It’s CBS’s own service. If thy don’t have enough servers to store everything…then why not just buy some more servers???

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