It’s an exciting time to be a Star Trek fan again. After a 12-year-long hiatus, our favorite science fiction universe is returning to the medium where it really belongs, television. Except… it’s not. As any self-respecting fan likely already knows, Star Trek: Discovery will only be available for streaming on the CBS All Access service. (At least, in the United States. Most other countries get it through Netflix.)
On one hand, this isn’t entirely surprising. The Next Generation pioneered the era of first-run syndication, and Voyager launched the UPN network. The immense popularity and visibility of Star Trek means that it can bring considerable weight to the chosen format. The question is, are we at the start of a new age of television programming (like with The Next Generation), or are we looking at an ill-advised experiment in a new network that will drag down the Star Trek franchise (like UPN with Voyager and Enterprise)?
For now, the question is mostly rhetorical. I can’t predict the future. Obviously CBS has made their choice, and they’re hoping that many fans will eagerly sign up for their new streaming service. But I won’t be one of them.
Hopes and Expectations for Discovery
It has nothing to do with lack of interest. Quite the opposite, I’m very excited to see what Discovery is like, and I’m willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. There have been so many concerns and complaints aired—many of them valid. The Klingons look completely different! How come Spock suddenly has a foster sister that we’ve never heard of before?
We went through similar concerns with the reboot movies. And there were many vocal complaints about the look and feel of the NX-01, both internally and externally, when we first got to know it. I imagine there were similar feelings about the different style of the ship and crew when The Next Generation first aired. How could all of these differences in setting, lighting, costuming, and effects fit in with the established universe that exists in our heads?
Many other fan sites have naturally pored over all the details. (Bernd Schneider’s Discovery Blog is a great place to get news and thoughtful reactions from a die-hard fan.) But as much as I love those details too, they aren’t what makes it Star Trek. It’s about exploration, optimism, and tolerance. It’s about people learning to embrace differences in each other.
And so, even though Discovery might not fit all of my preconceived notions of how to tell a story set in the 2250’s, I’m very intrigued by the direction the writers are going. It seems like the Klingons are going to serve as a catalyzing antagonists in the story, but it also seems that there’s going to be a major focus on the classic ideals of Star Trek, too. I’m more than interested in watching it. I’m definitely going to be watching it.
Divide and Multiply
“I believe he means television, sir. That particular form of entertainment did not last much beyond the year 2040.” — Data, “The Neutral Zone” (TNG)
…But not on CBS All Access.
There was a time when people were clamoring for “a la carte cable”, a system where we could pick only the channels we wanted to watch. That idea always struck me as foolish, because shows are often divided among different networks. In 2017, with the bourgeoning streaming networks, we are stuck with a new, equally expensive problem. If we want to watch one show on a service, we have to sign up for everything! Among the biggest, most popular shows of the year are Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, House of Cards, and The Man in the High Castle. Each one of those shows is on a different service, so I’d have to pay for all of them if I wanted to watch those four shows! And that’s just for television… don’t get me started on the situation with movies! You need websites like GoWatchIt or Can I Stream.it? to figure our where to watch your favorite movies.
I hate to sound like a Ferengi, but it comes down to money. Discovery is going to be released (I can’t say “air”, can I?) between late September to sometime in March. Even if I cancel the subscription during the November–December hiatus and renew in January, it would cost $40 to $50 to watch the show… once. I’d have to pay for the streaming service again if I wanted to watch the show again in the future. But if I buy the show on Blu-ray or iTunes, I can rewatch the show as often as I like, indefinitely.
I fully expect that I will enjoy Discovery. So why should I shell out $10 a month** to watch the show once, when I can wait a little while, pay for it once, and watch it as often as I like? Is it worth $50 to get to watch the show immediately? It’s not worth it to me.
I don’t object to the idea of streaming services. I just object to paying for an otherwise worthless streaming service to watch just one single show. The selection on CBS All Access is terrible. The only thing I’d be remotely interested in—the catalogue of past Star Trek series—is worthless to me because I already own every show on Blu-ray or DVD.
I’m eager to see how Discovery adds to the rich Star Trek universe. But I can wait a little while.
Aside: Yes, I know there’s a $6-per-month option, but I think it’s ridiculous to pay for a streaming service and still have to watch ads. ↩︎