So get this: a bunch of business people got together and decided to start a new network, and use the popularity of Star Trek to attract an audience. And then, they didn’t offer much else. People flocked to the network and then flocked away in droves because one good show doesn’t justify a time commitment.
I’m not talking about the streaming service CBS All Access, which is premiering every episode Star Trek: Discovery (except the pilot, which debuted on CBS proper). I’m talking about UPN, a network that launched in 1995 with the debut of Star Trek: Voyager, and a gaggle of forgettable programming that has mostly been lost to the pop culture ether. UPN lost over $800 million over the course of just five years, because although people were interested in Star Trek, nobody gave a damn about shows like The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, Deadly Games and The Love Boat: The Next Wave.
This week, CBS appeared eager to make the same mistake all over again. Star Trek: Discovery premiered to an eager audience and no small amount of fanfare, but now audiences have to decide whether they really want to spend an additional $59.99/year (with commercials) or $99.99/year (without commercials) just to watch one season of Star Trek: Discovery and all the NCIS, Touched By An Angel and Medium re-runs they can handle.
CBS is committed to their own streaming service, even though their content is by definition limited to whatever shows the executives at CBS happened to green light over the years. Later this week, FX announced that they would also start their own subscription service, so if for some reason you would literally watch anything that airs on FX – as opposed to just the couple of shows you’re into, because not everyone who likes American Horror Story is also deeply committed to Taboo – you can now pay $6 to watch only those shows.
You don’t have to tilt your head too far to see that we’re approaching a precipice. Premium services like HBO, Showtime and STARZ already have their own streaming services. Disney is starting their own streaming service, exclusively to provide their own content. The convenience that instant streaming once offered – the chance to watch whatever you want, whenever you wanted – is splintering away.
If every studio and network starts their own instant streaming service – and if they take their content off of broader content distribution systems like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime – they could very easily fracture their audience. If you happen to watch a lot of television, and if you like watching a variety of different kinds of movies, you would need to subscribe to multiple streaming services in order to get the selection you once had. That means more spending more money, keeping track of more bills, and changing applications every time you want to watch a different show.
And if streaming media becomes so convenient that it’s easier to simply pay for a cable subscription and DVR the shows you like, then these services could very easily make themselves redundant. They make sense for studios and networks, who cut out the middlepersons and make more money per transaction, but they make very little sense for audiences who (for some crazy reason) like watching shows from more than one network and movies from more than one studio. Especially if the original content these streaming services provide is woefully limited.
Remember when we had these things called video stores, where you could see any movie the proprietors could get their hands on – from any studio, any network, any source at all – and rent them all for the same price? That’s a better system for consumers: A couple of hubs which could offer the majority of the content that the customers might want, supplemented by a few niche services that cater to very specific demographics, like horror fans or classic movie lovers. Because it makes a heck of a lot more sense to offer smaller streaming services that offer content based on the consumer’s tastes, as opposed to streaming services that offer whatever content a single network produced. Especially since networks like CBS, which spent the majority of their history producing content designed to appeal to multiple demographics that don’t, necessarily, overlap.
Sure, it’s convenient to rent movies from a streaming service, in the comfort of your own home, but there’s got to be a line somewhere, a law of diminishing returns, when limited selections and increased costs due to the need for multiple subscriptions, that will ruin a streaming service like CBS All Access, just like UPN got ruined, not that long ago.
So hey, Hollywood, knock it off with all these streaming services. A few networks and studios have a big and powerful enough brand to get away with it (see: HBO, Disney) but most of you don’t. Consumers don’t all have the disposable income they’d need to pay an additional fee to subscribe to all of them, and there’s a decent chance they might decide to subscribe to none of them.
Top Photo: CBS
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.