CBS All Access: Infuriating, But Smart

My wife found it infuriating that CBS’ new “Star Trek: Discovery” is so good.  Having recently seen the series premiere on CBS, we can’t watch subsequent episodes unless we subscribe to the CBS All Access streaming service.  

She felt the same way about “The Good Wife” spinoff, “The Good Fight,” CBS’s first original streaming-only series.

Although not rising to the level of Trekkies, we are “Star Trek” fans.  The premiere quickly drew us in and made us interested in the characters (especially the work of the excellent Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham).  

We want to see what happens next, and whether this series will live up to its predecessors, particularly “Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine.”

 We are thinking about subscribing, but haven’t decided for sure.  In addition to our regular cable subscription, we already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

Will “Star Trek Discovery” help CBS add a million or more new subscribers and hit its goal of 4 million subscribers by 2020 (it reportedly now has more than 2 million)?  This is is actually a relatively modest goal, which should be easily within reach.  CBS has said that the “Star Trek” premiere resulted in a single-day new-subscriber record (without providing any actual numbers).  

I just attended the New York Comic Con (which reportedly had a record 200,000 attendees).  While many of the series that were showcased at the July San Diego Comic Con were not in New York, CBS was smart to give “Star Trek: Discovery” a strong presence here, which included a sold-out panel discussion.  

It would also be smart to have at least some presence at the smaller Comic Con events that take place throughout the country during the year.

Is “Discovery” worth the high cost (it’s reportedly CBS’s most expensive series, with a price tag approaching $8 million per episode)?  It sure is.

The show would likely get modest ratings for a broadcast network, particularly CBS, whose other programming is not compatible (see “Supergirl”).   It can, however, be a major success and subscription draw for a new streaming service.  A couple of million viewers would be game-changing for CBS All Access (not so much for CBS).  The network reportedly sold international rights to Netflix for about $6 million per episode, dramatically reducing its financial risk.

While still a gamble, there is no reason to think this won’t have a big payoff for CBS.  The rules of the television game are changing at an unprecedented pace, but original content is still king.  

Press stories abound about how various networks are creating their own streaming services to lure viewers turning away from linear television in favor of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But that’s not entirely true. CBS All Access is not really competing with Netflix.  Few people will drop Netflix in favor of CBS All Access.

Netflix viewers might add it to the mix, but another key target group is people who do not subscribe to any streaming service, but are heavy broadcast TV viewers.  

Keep in mind that half the country doesn't subscribe to any streaming service, and half the country does not have a DVR.  Some people who have only one streaming service (most likely Netflix), might consider CBS All Access before Hulu.  So, while media industry folk, who are typically media-platform and device-heavy, tend to think the market is saturated, it’s not.  There’s plenty of room for CBS All Access to become a major force -- particularly as it adds more original content.

6 comments about "CBS All Access: Infuriating, But Smart".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, October 10, 2017 at 8:19 a.m.

    We cover this subject in great detail in our upcoming edition of "TV Dimensions 2018" Steve and you may well be right as CBS is developing a totally new model for premium content distribution. It goes like this: Break even---or almost so---via streaming subs, then run the shows on the network at very low "rerun" cost, finally, make a killing in syndication. Makes sense to me.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 10, 2017 at 11:05 a.m.

    There's an (illegal) app for that.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 10, 2017 at 11:37 a.m.

    Want to get really pissed ? Try to catch up a few weeks later on a series that you paid for already with cable and On Demand and you will see Comcast will make you pay to see what you already paid for. Now I do understand there are contracts with the studios, networks, etc.,  IF that is the case, however, Comcast can say no to their demands of making people pay for what they already paid for. Changes are coming. We have to suck it up and take our eyeballs elsewhere and not pay or get screwed.

  4. Michael Margolies from Michael Margolies Photography & Design, October 10, 2017 at 12:36 p.m.

    I did not see what all the fuss was about with the new Star Trek. I am a fan and a minor Trekkie. I found the new characters hollow, trying too hard and the script way to deliberate. The new Klingon redesign seems pointless and only taking the show 10 years before Kirk while introducing newer looking tech, ships, uniforms and politically correct forward thinking culture all seems like a mistake for me. Why not go forward in time and not have to deal with these issues? 

    Will I pay to watch it? No. I already pay too much for TV and it wastes too much of my time already. If they would promise it would be commercial free then maybe but no network stays true to that so we are paying double. No I'll wait tell it moves to reruns or syndicates to some lower cost platform.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 10, 2017 at 1:06 p.m.

    Michael, the "fuss" about the new incarnation of "Star TreK" is not so much about the show but, rather, that it's distribution scheme---as I described, below---represents a new business plan for quality primetime programming by the major broadcast TV networks and some others. It doesn't matter if 96% of all TV homes wont pay to subscribe to the network's SVOD platform to see the new "Star Trek" so long as 3-4 million do so. The fees thus earned, will pay for much of the program's production costs, thereby defraying a lot of the risk. After that, it makes mucho profit. That's the plan.

  6. Mark Schultz from Schucon, October 10, 2017 at 3:47 p.m.

     I personally think CBS is making a huge mistake. CBS All Access has very limited reach. Most people don’t have Waze to actually subscribed to it. What they have on their hands is a potential major hit that could be shown on broadcast TV. Along with getting premium and rates. However,  they decided to gouged the computer the consumer even more. This will reflect on them badly in the long run. 
    CBS All Access will never be more than a minor revenue stream for CBS. Star Trek is a major money maker no matter where it is. CBS All Access will never be more than a minor revenue stream for CBS. Star Trek is a major money maker no matter where it is. There are squandering an opportunity. They are squandering an opportunity.

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