On Sunday night, Star Trek fans were asked to boldly go where few of them have ever gone before: paying an extra fee to specifically watch a Trek show.
The first episode of the new Trek prequel Star Trek: Discovery aired on both the CBS broadcast network and its three-year-old paid streaming platform, CBS All Access. The show's second episode then aired exclusively on All Access, which will now be the standard for the series going forward. As a result, while Twitter buzzed about the first new Trek show in over a decade, the excitement was peppered with plenty of complaints about having to pay extra to see the show.
The service costs $5.99 per month, with the price jumping to $9.99 for commercial-free viewing. All Access is stocked with nearly 10,000 hours of programming from the vast CBS archive — because it did not join most networks in creating Hulu, the network has control of its vaults. It's still young, but Glenn Hower, a senior analyst who focuses on media distribution at the research firm Park Associates, says the platform is in decent shape.
"CBS All Access has already been one of the more successful network-focused services, perhaps behind HBO Now," he told SYFY WIRE. "Even if there is some backlash in the fan community over the exclusivity of Star Trek: Discovery to All Access, having a franchise presence on the platform positions it as a streaming service worth considering when consumers look at their entertainment wallets."
Tuna Amobi, a senior research analyst at CFRA, echoed the sentiment.
"There’s something to be said about having unique franchises that can help the brand and really help to create brand equity," he said. "Clearly CBS understands that they need some major marquee franchises to help to differentiate their offerings."
Discovery is set to be the first such franchise in All Access's history. In February, The Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight, earned the platform some new subscribers, but it has not had any sort of breakout hit, let alone the many hits often required to entice viewers to shell out money for another streamer. (Every Star Trek series is available on All Access, but Netflix also carries them for now.)
A relatively new platform, All Access only has about 2 million paid subscribers. CBS worked to entice fans with a free week trial of the service. Enough people bit on the offer that the service had problems handling the bandwidth, which coupled with a time delay due to a longer episode of 60 Minutes, raised some hackles.
Despite the technical problems, CBS announced on Monday that Discovery helped the platform set a single-day record for All Access on Sunday. Four separate advertisements that aired during the first episode and pushed users to sign up on their device of choice also helped the signup drive.
What that record means, exactly, is unclear, as some people on Twitter suggested that they signed up for the service to see the second episode, but would cancel when their trial ended. SYFY WIRE asked CBS whether the record included trial members or just full paying customers, but the network declined to comment or release any actual numbers. So while hard numbers aren't available, Hower offered perspective on the vague signup statistic.
"While free trials may indeed cloud the subscriber numbers a bit, our numbers show that about one-third of all OTT free trials end up converting into paid subscriptions," he said.
CBS is hoping to keep trial subscribers with promises of new content; in a story published on Monday at The Hollywood Reporter, CBS Interactive head Marc DeBevoise said that the company planned to roll out something new to the platform every week. The subscriber goal is modest; CBS is aiming to hit four million subscribers in the US by 2020, while Netflix has 52 million right now.
Many fans, stretched thin by paying for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, FX+, Crackle, and other streaming services already, are holding off from signing up right away.
The holdouts, for all their vocal protestations, will likely be fighting a losing battle, in the long term.
"There will almost always be a vocal group that decries any exclusive content arrangement," Hower said. "However, as OTT video providers rely increasingly on exclusive content to differentiate and generate subscribers, these types of arrangements are likely to become more common for the near future."