In Part 1, I looked at some of the striking similarities between the two franchises LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK. And then I shared how my seven-year-old son and I absolutely LOVED the first season of the new Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, while I personally have been mostly disappointed with the new Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access (which I don’t let my son watch).
Yesterday, I provided an overview of why Jayden and I enjoyed LiS so much. It made us cheer. We rooted for the characters and wanted to see them get out of trouble and win. On the other hand, during the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, I found myself caring very little about any of the crew or nearly all of the other characters on that show.
But enough with the generalities! It’s time to provide some specifics of what I think LiS is doing right that Discovery is failing to do. So let’s dive right in…
Like Star Trek, LOST IN SPACE recently returned to television after a long absence with a new series…available only through a paid subscription service. Both shows are “darker” than their original versions, very expensive to make (about $8-$8.5 million per episode), and both are produced entirely in Canada (Star Trek: Discovery in Toronto and Lost in Space in British Columbia).
Both series debuted to very strong viewership numbers. When the first two episodes of Discovery premiered on the CBS network, 9.6 million people watched. When LiS debuted on Netflix, Nielsen estimated that 6 million people watched it in the first three days alone and that 1.2 million binge-watched all ten episodes during that time. More viewers—such as myself and my 7-year-old son Jayden, watched LiS several weeks later over the course of many nights.
While it’s not known how many people are watching Discovery (CBS keeps those numbers locked up tighter than the gold in Fort Knox!), estimates are that about 300,000-500,000 subscribers view Discovery on All Access with more watching on Space TV in Canada and on Netflix in other countries around the world. And despite mixed reviews from both critics and fans, both series have now been renewed for a second season.
So those are their main similarities. But what about their differences? And what is it about those differences that leaves me so much MORE enthusiastic about the new Lost in Space than I am about Star Trek: Discovery?
Over this past weekend, at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY show-runner AARON HARBERTS released what he referred to as a “secret scene. ” He told the audience, in what I thought was a strange comment, that they decided to cut the scene out of the season one finale because it would be “…more exciting to bring it to a place like [WonderCon].”
By now, many of you have probably viewed the two and a half-minute “secret scene” (complete with a full minute and a half of credits…which seemed odd and unnecessary to me). If you’re in the U.S., you can view the clip below…
And in a case of international legalistic inconvenience, those folks in Canada can only watch it here, and the rest of the world can see it here.
Almost immediately, fans started talking excitedly about this “new” scene and what it means for season two. And not surprisingly, a whole bunch of folks e-mailed and/or IM’d me to ask what I thought about it. I guess all those Discovery blogs I’ve written have marked me as some kind of fan barometer or something…or maybe they were just hoping I had some interesting insight or that maybe I’d find some fun way to trash the scene. Who knows?
But since I’ve had a bunch of people ask for my opinion, I thought it best to just write it once. Obviously, I’m not going to put any spoiler warnings here, as the season ended last month and the “secret scene” is right here on this blog.
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 notDiscovery, 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?
Like a number of Trek fans, I watch and enjoy the Midnight’s Edge video podcast. The production values are high, and the updates are interesting and informative. But they’re also full of rumor, conjecture, and innuendo.
I sometimes feel as though I’m listening to fan “wish-fulfillment” and conspiracy theories, and I occasionally find myself wondering what is true and what is simply something that the creator(s) of Midnight’s Edge WANT to be true.
It’s often really hard to tell the difference! In their most recent video podcast, Midnight’s Edge mentions that, “There were reportedly no Star Trek: Discovery toys revealed at the 2018 Diamond Select ToyFair.” Note the word “reportedly.” It’s a relatively careful word. The “report” they reference was a single tweet from Gabriel Koerner, who was apparently there…
Three days later, however, TrekMovie.com reported that McFarlane Toys was displaying a brand new Star Trek: Discovery phaser at ToyFair. So perhaps sourcing a single tweet from a roving, non-reporter VFX artist might not be the most reliable way to confirm one’s facts.
And so it was that I took the following quote from the most recent Midnight’s Edge video podcast with a pretty huge grain of salt:
“While CBS displayed confidence to the public, there was rumored chaos and panic behind the scenes, and the latter episodes of the series were allegedly retooled to address fan concerns going forward. Because from season 2 onwards, it is going to be increasingly important to win back the fans.”
Sounds all juicy and dramatic, don’t it? Of course, notice the words “rumored” and “allegedly” included in there. Some fans, dissatisfied and angry about the new series not hewing more closely to TOS and established Star Trek designs, would love to think that there are huge regrets at CBS about the way Discovery was rolled out and handled…and that the higher-ups are putting pressure on the producers to fix this and that. It’s certainly a compelling narrative if you’re an angry and resentful Trek fan.
It’s kind of like Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files wanting to believe in the most far out conspiracy theories. And who knows? Maybe they’re right. But I seriously doubt it.
So it’s time for me to put on my Special Agent Dana Scully red wig and provide an alternative, more reasonable analysis of the situation currently going on with CBS and Star Trek: Discovery. Then you can decide whom YOU want to believe…
Rather than writing a review of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (that’s coming tomorrow), I decided to take a look at the bigger picture. Were the record sign-ups right after the premiere really “big news” or simply the inevitable result of hundreds of millions of dollars in production and advertising/marketing budgets? Also, what does it tell us that CBS remains so reluctant to provide hard numbers about how many people actually subscribed last night?
As I said in yesterday’s blog, my goal here is NOT to try to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory for CBS. I’m actually very happy that Star Trek: Discovery did so well in both ratings and sign-ups. This means that the worst-case scenario—CBS simply assumes that Star Trek has run its course and is no longer a viable sci-fi franchise—has been avoided. Nearly 10 million people watched the free network TV premiere on Sunday night. So anyone accusing me of sour grapes is wrong. Wet blanket, yes. Sour grapes, no.
My desire, to be honest, is to simply take a wider look at this new series…beyond just Sunday night or this one week. Now that the horse is fast out of the starting gate, what are the challenges facing Star Trek: Discovery in terms of keeping and growing its viewership? Obviously, CBS is in a unique situation due to its decision to require viewers to pay to see episodes of the new series. How does that affect their goal of attracting and keeping viewers?
The news seems to be REALLY great for the premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. According to a press release quickly and enthusiastically circulated by an exuberant CBS, the premiere of the newest Star Trek TV series has resulted in record-breaking sign-ups for the ALL ACCESS streaming service:
Tonight’s premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY on CBS All Access, the CBS Television Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service, broke a new record for subscriber sign-ups in a single day, eclipsing the previous record held by the 2017 GRAMMY Awards®.
In addition to its single day subscriber sign-up record, CBS All Access experienced its best week and month ever for sign-ups due to the launch of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, the fall kick-off of the NFL ON CBS on the service’s live local feeds and the season finale of BIG BROTHER and the BIG BROTHER LIVE FEEDS.
But before people start gulping down too much champagne (although there is certainly reason for celebration), I’d like to mention a few things that CBS and fans should be noting.
Now, I realize this blog is going to sound like a wet blanket, but please make no mistake: I am ABSOLUTELY, SINCERELY HAPPY that so many people liked the new show! (I personally wasn’t thrilled with it, although I do plan to watch more episodes eventually.)
But I’m also a business strategist trained to look at multiple aspects of a situation. As I did in my previous blog about Star Trek: Discovery, I want to take a look at the whole picture…which is, of course, impacted significantly by CBS’s decision to offer their new Star Trek series exclusively as a paid streaming video-on-demand service.
So yes, the news is definitely good for CBS. But it might be a little too soon to consider the game won…
In yesterday’s blog, while many Star Trek fans are debating uniforms, starships, bridge lighting, hairless Klingons, and adopted human sisters, I decided to look at a much more fundamental question regarding the new Star Trek: Discovery television series. Was it a good or bad business decision by CBS to make the new show available (at least in the U.S) exclusively via subscription to their ALL ACCESS streaming service?
We already looked at CBS’s decision to target the series to a younger audience, based on a statement made be CBS President and CEO Les Moonvesback in May. This means that the older, more loyal Star Trek fans, “yesterday’s fan-base” as I call them, aren’t the primary target…which is kinda why Discovery isn’t sweating the details in hewing to established Star Trek canon.
Instead, CBS is focusing their attention and hopes on younger viewers who are more likely to subscribe to a brand new streaming video on demand (SVOD) service than the older fans.
Ah, but therein lies the rub!
These younger viewers don’t have an existing, decades-long relationship with Star Trek. They weren’t watching TOS when it first aired in the 1960s or grew up with it in the 1970s. They didn’t even watch TNG in the 1980s and 1990s as kids. All those folks are already pushing 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70!) CBS is targeting viewers in their 30s or even 20s. By the time these younger viewers were old enough to watch Star Trek, the ratings for the show had already plummeted and few people were watching at all.
In other words, the vast majority of these young viewers aren’t really Star Trek “fans.” To them, Discovery is more like a new science fiction show based on an old series that their parents or grandparents used to watch…except this version has cool sets, dazzling VFX, action, adventure, and a TV-MA rating. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I don’t fault CBS for choosing to make the new series young and hip.
But they made another choice to put the new series exclusively on the ALL ACCESS subscription service here in the U.S. And today, I want to look at some of the consequences of that decision—not from the perspective of an angry fan (which I’m not; I actually want the new series to succeed), but as a business analyst.
(NOTE FROM JONATHAN – I’ve decided to take a two-part break from fan films to answer the question I keep getting asked: “What do you think about the new Star Trek series that’s coming out?”)
Many Trek fans are hotly debating whether or not it was the right move to “modernize” the production design of the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY series and put a TV-MA rating on it. I’ve read passionate posts going back and forth arguing about the new uniform styles not matching those worn by Captain Pike in “The Cage” back in 1965; how the “hairless” Klingons don’t look like the ones we’ve seen on TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise; and why after 50 years we’re only just now finding out that Spock had an adopted human sister!
In my opinion, none of that is the problem. That’s not where I think CBS has steered the wrong courae, and that’s not what I’ll be discussing in this blog. I’m actually planning to check out Discovery at some point down the line. But am I the exception or the rule?
I honestly think I’m going to be the exception, and that CBS made an unwise decision to offer their new series solely through their ALL ACCESS subscription service (at least here in the U.S.).
It’s not that Trek and sci-fi fans aren’t ready for CBS ALL ACCESS—it’s that ALL ACCESS might not quite be ready for the fans!
Things got very interesting on Sunday morning after STAR TREK CONTINUES posted this message on their Facebook page overnight:
Got CBS All Access yet? STC has been invited to join the affiliate program, so you can sign up through our website now. Sign up today!
Almost immediately, fans started conjecturing what this meant for STC. Were they suddenly being accepted by CBS? Would they now be allowed to complete their cancelled 12th and 13th episodes? Were they getting a kickback from CBS? Would STC be shown on All Access?
The answers to all of these questions appear to be “no.” Apparently, STC was simply contacted by a division of CBS (likely CBS Interactive or else someone in marketing) and offered the option of becoming a CBS All Access Affiliate, promoting subscriptions to the network’s streaming service through online banners on their startrekcontinues.com website. (Note to CBS Interactive: the hyperlinks aren’t working from Mac browsers.)
It’s unclear whether or not STC will be receiving a commission for any fans who sign up for CBS All Access. STC posted on their Facebook pages that they are not being compensated. However, I just signed up Fan Film Factor for the same program and was required to agree to terms that included the following (which I screen capped)…