The latest launch from Starfleet’s spacedock, Star Trek: Discovery, has been fraught with controversy since its inception. Between production delays, a showrunner change-up, the contentious Prime timeline setting, and its location within series continuity (before Star Trek: The Original Series), the show already took a good deal of flack. And CBS suffered the greatest fan ire over its choice of venue: their monthly pay streaming service, CBS All Access. Nine episodes later, the show continues to vex some fans but has garnered enough critical and fan support to land another season. It’s launch also netted All Access an infusion of subscribers, securing the show a second season.
Now, during the program’s mid-season break, is an excellent time to explore the viability of the streaming service that Discovery breathed new life into. The power of the show is undeniable, as it drove the 2014-launched subscriber voice-over-data service a record number of new subscriptions, likely keeping the execs happy and the fledgling streaming service trucking along. While All Access is the only place fans can enjoy the modern, darker version of Trek, the popular show remains one of the service's few draws.
Could a handful of other original shows and a back catalog of CBS reruns fuel the streaming network without its "star" player?
Crunching the (Available) Numbers
While the numbers aren’t readily available, network bigwigs already cleared Discovery for a second voyage, suggesting it's working hard for its budget. In fact, CBS Interactive COO Marc DeBevoise proclaimed the show is “absolutely a success.” The accompanying Engadget article also pointed out that All Access (combined with their heavy-lifting streaming sibling, Showtime) expects to clear 4 million subscribers by year's end – which is halfway to the network’s goal of 8 million patrons by 2020 – largely thanks to the Star Trek spike. However, it’s difficult to tell how many audience members left the service since Discovery's launch.
At the beginning of 2017, Variety reported that All Access had rounded 1.5 million subscribers – roughly equivalent to Showtime's headcount at the time. Initial downloads of the CBS mobile app nearly doubled on Discovery's launch, climbing 64% and spiking at roughly 46,000 downloads – although it's unclear how many downloaders became long-term customers. In contrast, HBO’s mobile app scored 171,000 fresh downloads when their juggernaut series Game of Thrones rolled out its seventh season. But you have to start somewhere: the more aplomb Discovery earns, the more fans will pony up the dosh and stick around for each new development.
Clearly, the new Trek boosted All Access in a big way. Unfortunately, the channel hasn’t divulged how many viewers stuck around through the first half of the series’ run, much less how many will drop and re-subscribe during the midseason break, and likely won't note the change between seasons. In the meanwhile, CBS is banking on our love of reruns and a few current and upcoming new offerings. It’s a big gamble, but it’s sort-of paid off thus far, at least for a service initially meant to supplement their network broadcast.
So, what does All Access have on the docket?
News and Nostalgia
The All Access package also includes access to CBSN, a 24-hour news service akin to MSNBC or CNN. Their live current events “channel” has been running since 2014. However, cable subscribers already have their pick of the litter, as far as live coverage goes. Plus, the news channel is available at CBS.com, at least to a lesser degree, hence not exclusive content. Unless you’re a dedicated newshound, 24/7 CBSN probably won’t sell you on another $6-10 bucks a month. Of course, All Access also throws in the kitchen sink: their extensive back catalog.
A must for nostalgia nuts, their classic TV inventory includes many enjoyable, once-run series like Cheers, NCIS(s) to their heart’s content, 48 Hours and 60 Minutes investigations, and a catalog of Golden Age classics like Perry Mason and I Love Lucy. Yet certain popular favorites, such as The Big Bang Theory, are only available in brief, due to the off-company licensing. In addition, current-run programs like Young Sheldon or Scorpion are really only enticing if you can't stand weekly TV and prefer to binge network shows later. And, while the decades worth of Star Trek is a great way to escape into the sci-fi world between episodes of Discovery, most of the episodes are, more or less, available on Hulu, Netflix, and BBC America for the moment.
Yes, there’s also NFL football or at least a selection of live-streaming regional games, but CBS already broadcasts a similar spread on the network. If the back catalog, news, and football aren't enough to coax yet another streaming fee, then All Access might have to depend on their scant run of online-only content.