Fatigue was the first reaction I had when CBS announced that it plans to launch a “Star Trek” reboot that will only be available through the network’s All Access subscription streaming service. “Really?” I thought. “Yet another service to which I’ll have to fork over some dough?”
If I’m being honest this is silly, because no, I don’t have to subscribe to anything. Life is short and viewing hours are limited; there’s no way to watch everything so you pick your spots. I don’t feel the same annoyance when I consider how many new book releases I won’t get to. It’s fine.
I wonder, though: How many over-the-top streaming sites are you willing to buy into until it feels onerous?
Subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu’s ad-free service run about $30 per month combined. CBS All Access is another $6. Throw in HBO Now and Showtime’s over-the-top service and it’s about $60 monthly, on top of any cable or satellite bill.
Dave Tolchinsky, who heads the department of radio, television and film at Northwestern University, boils it down to this: “It’s really about convenience versus cost and how much we still find shows to watch by randomly clicking through our TV’s channels versus knowing exactly what we intend to watch and finding it as quickly as possible.”
The majority of 15- to 29-year-olds (62 percent) still prefer watching shows on an actual TV screen, according to a study by TV network Revolt cited by AdWeek in April. Only 43 percent said they planned to have a cable subscription five years from now; 61 percent said they would be using a streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon.
What the study didn’t determine was just how many of those online platforms millennials anticipated aggregating into their own private bundles. As they have families and their homes become filled with multiple TV tastes, how will they figure out how many subscriptions are enough?
For now, I have a pretty extensive cable package. And Netflix and Amazon. I’m exactly the sort of person who should be subscribing to Acorn TV (which streams shows from the U.K.), but I can’t seem to pull the trigger.
But why not? If you’re using a Roku or Chromecast or similar device, all your services are there, ready for the using. And perhaps we’ll all eventually just dip in and out of certain services the way people sign up for HBO for new episodes of “Game of Thrones” only to cancel their subscriptions once the season is over.
Maybe this sensation, this exhaustion with having to contemplate adding yet another service to the credit card bill is just technological growing pains as our habits shift.
“Some of this is your own crankiness, but there are definitely more over-the-top services now [than ever], and there’s going to be a shakedown and [these companies] know it,” says Dom Caristi, a professor in Ball State University’s department of telecommunications. “The marketplace cannot support a dozen different services.”
Caristi even thinks that, in some markets, CBS will eventually decide it no longer needs local affiliates. “The idea of a local affiliate carrying network programming is going to go by the wayside very soon. In an Internet world there’s no need for them, now that all of this can be streamed.” Ultimately, in five years or so it might be more profitable for CBS to simply rake in subscription fees directly from viewers instead of sharing the advertising revenue with the affiliates. “It would be quite a radical change.”
Either way, CBS was smart to do this. Viewers need a reason to sign up for a service. Exclusive programming is the only meaningful draw, and “Star Trek” has a dedicated fan base.
“CBS is trying to get some original content that people will want to pay to watch — they’re sure not getting many subscribers now, offering old CBS content that you can find online just about anywhere,” Caristi says.
“Bottom line, it will come down to the quality of the new show,” Tolchinsky says. “There’s been good ‘Star Trek’ series and bad ‘Star Trek’ series regardless of platform.”