Note: This remains one of my more popular posts on the site, so if you’re here because you too are pondering about the future of TV, I’ve done several posts since this one under the unsurprising tag “Future TV.”
Last night, CBS made its play to remain relevant in the streaming sphere by using Star Trek: Discovery as a carrot for viewers to sign up for its CBS All Access service (which has actually been around for three years).
It’d be unfair to ask any one show to sell a streaming service, but of course that’s some of what HBO Go has done with Game of Thrones and Hulu has done more recently with Handmaid’s Tale. When Netflix was first getting into the original content game in a big way, it could be said they did that with House of Cards.
Netflix has spent so much on original content now that the shows added are benefitting from being on Netflix. Ironically, outside of the U.S. and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery benefits from being another hot, new show on Netflix: the streaming service helps sell the show.
But this doesn’t mean Netflix isn’t dealing with struggles. In fact, it’s planning to up its spending on content with the looming 2019 departure of evergreen Disney content from its service. And it hasn’t backed down from trying to get A-list names to create that content, what with this summer’s announcement that the powerhouse writer-producer Shonda Rhimes has decided to move to Netflix.
David Sims explores Rhimes’ reasoning in an article for The Atlantic. There’s creative freedom and less of a workload with Netflix series, which usually doesn’t top 13 episodes for a season while broadcast usually remains around 22 or 24 episodes. That is, as project managers like to say, a non-trivial amount. And Netflix is clearly hoping to copy something of brand management with its luring of creative talent to helm projects — since it doesn’t own copious IP like Disney.
Hollywood hand-wringing about what nightmares may come is explored further by Todd VanDerWerff in a piece in Vox, which also details the challenges the streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are having. Cancellations are now possible and debt is mounting. Nevertheless, does anyone really think we’ll go back to broadcast or even a streaming replica of it?
One of the biggest fears I hear voiced is that various streaming services will present the worst possible version of a la carte pricing — long the dream of consumers dissatisfied with bloated cable bundles full of channels they didn’t use. If CBS All Access succeeds, who else will follow suit? True, NBC is linked to Comcast and ABC is linked to Disney, but will new, more labyrinthine bundles appear de facto? For example, will Disney apportion streaming services for ABC and ESPN and Disney and, perhaps have a Marvel channel and Star Wars channel? How many nickels and dimes will come into play?
In the next two years, I think we’ll get a whole new idea of how “channels” and “networks” and “streaming services” are defined — and most of the definition will come from the media corporations eyeing profit over service or convenience. I’d love for their to be 21st century aggregators curating content, but so many of the players want as close to complete vertical integration that I don’t know if that kind of consumer-centric model will be allowed. And in fairness, I’m not sure consumers agree on a model beyond “I want to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it,” which will likely never work 100% of the time.
If readers have additional articles and analysis they want to share, I’m sure to be writing more about this in the months to come.
(BTW, for those wanting more on Star Trek: Discovery, here’s a review from Nerdist and a review with clearly marked spoilers from Vox. I liked it, flaws and all, and will be checking out episode 3 next week).