This is how TV is in 2017: The networks hate airing shows they don’t actually own. They’re all terrified of Netflix. And they all want to have their own subscription streaming service (eventually).

Basically, it’s the age of vertical integration.

TV networks giving preferential treatment to only those shows which their TV studio counterparts produce is one thing; using in-house produced shows to puff up a streaming service, however, is another. One is hardly noticeable by the average consumer; the other asks us to spend yet more money on yet another streaming service. And wow are people ever pissed about that mostly because when does it ever end? When does the streaming revolution and cord-cutting movement turn from a cost-saving evolutionary step toward a more blissful TV consuming experience into simple more of the same just bundled differently and ultimately not saving us much money, unless we learn to simply be okay with not watching certain shows that end up being dumped behind a paywall?

Millions are facing that question right now with Star Trek: Discovery. Do they really want to support CBS, a network that just killed off a lead actress (Erinn Hayes) in 20 seconds rather than simply force Kevin James to act alongside two female leads (Hayes and Leah Remini) instead of one? Because that’s what you get when you subscribe to CBS All Access. You get to watch the rest of Discovery (which is only airing 8 episodes before taking a hiatus until January, btw), but you also “get” the ability to watch re-runs of Kevin Can Wait and the other CBS shows your aunt talks about. Oh, goody.

The rest of CBS’s programming, minus maybe The Big Bang Theory, is so completely different from Discovery that for the average Star Trek fan this really does boil down to paying 7 bucks a month (10 if you want to skip commercials) just to watch one show. Prior Star Trek incarnations have been used to launch new platforms (i.e., TNG for original syndication, Voyager for UPN), but this is the first time the cost has been visited so directly on the consumer. TNG and Voyager were used as leverage against cable companies, not against consumers.

Grrr. Argh.

But don’t use up all of your frustration on this predicament right now. Because at some point next year we’ll be doing it all over again. Remember what Deadline reported in April:

Warner Bros and DC Entertainment are behind a new, DC-branded streaming service that will debut in 2018 with two high-profile comic book-themed original TV series: the live-action Titans, from the king of the CW DC universe Greg Berlanti, Akiva Goldsman, Geoff Johns, Sarah Schechter and Warner Bros TV, and the anticipated revival of cult animated series Young Justice, from Warner Bros Animation. It will be titled Young Justice: Outsiders.

Both Titans and Outsiders had broadcast and streaming suitors, but WB decided to hold them back to become launch programs for a new streaming service that will also contain some heretofore ill-defined infotainment programming pertaining to the comings and goings of DC comics. So, Titans and Outsiders will be dropped behind a paywall, but it will be a paywall more tailored specifically to them. That might make the “to subscribe or not to subscribe” decision easier, but it still means adding yet another option on top of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, Shudder, Acorn TV, CBS All Access, FilmStruck, Disney’s announced Netflix competitor and various others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

If Discovery and Titans/Outsiders succeed in turning their streaming services into profitable outlets we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future, and TV will continue on its path toward the day when there are no channels but instead individual apps we either subscribe to or not for a monthly fee (or bundled together somehow as old cable company ideas refuse to die). But if you build it AND put it behind a paywall they may not come. Just ask NBC’s soon-to-be-discontinued comedy-specific service SeeSo and Sony’s failed attempt at original programming, Powers, on its Playstation Network.

Source: Deadline

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

12 Comments

  1. The only way to avoid this dystopian future is to refuse to pay along. (See what I did there?)

    I honestly think fans should simply boycott networks-specific streaming services — and do so vocally and virally. I will certainly not be subscribing to either.

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    1. I have a bit more leniency toward DC because that’s something new they are trying. They’ve never had a network before; just a YouTube channel with far too perky hosts. It’s when big networks like CBS which we’ve become accustomed to essentially getting for free start putting things behind a paywall that it becomes especially annoying.

      Reply

  2. Yeah well, I’m not coming. I just unsubscribed to CBS AllAccess (the first week was free). I’m not paying six bucks per episode to watch Trek no matter how much I love it. If possible I will wait for the DVD release, if theyre gonna do that. It would cost less.

    If they’re gonna put a show behind a paywall they better be like Netflix and have a huge variety of things to watch. As it stands, I realized that I don’t, and possibly have never, watched anything on CBS. They just don’t have good programming that’s worth looking at more than once.

    I don’t think the networks have quite gotten the message that viewers follow specific shows. We don’t really follow networks anymore. If a network has a lot of good programming, that’s just where we’ll be, but its not necessarily loyalty to the network . Remember when there were people who were like, “All I watch is NBC, or ABC!” ? Nobody watches TV that way anymore.

    Right, now I only subscribe to Netflix, and Amazon. My whole family uses Amazon for almost everything, so I get my money’s worth there. My Mom loves Netflix and would kill me if I got rid of it. We have Roku, but most of those channels are free, and once you pay for the device (about 30-50 dollars, your costs are done.) I got rid of Hulu, when I found I was watching so much Netflix, that I never had time to watch Hulu. I’m loathe to add another channel for only one show.

    Reply

    1. I can’t actually think of any Network stations that I would subscribe to. I have cable and I’m already paying for that. I mostly stopped watching the big four networks anyway because my favorite shows kept gettting canceled if there weren’t enough people watching them other than me.

      Having shows you fall in love with get canceled gets galling after a while. Most of the good stuff is on cable. Ive gotten to the point where I’m wary of watching anything new on Network TV because I know it might get canceled for any or no reason.

      Reply

    2. ” Remember when there were people who were like, “All I watch is NBC, or ABC!” ? Nobody watches TV that way anymore.”

      The mentality is actually the same these days; it’s just the definitons that have changed. You still get plenty of people claiming to only watch one thing or another, but instead of networks it’s streaming services. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve personally talked to this year who told me they only watch Netflix or something like Netflix.

      And the problem is now the networks and studios realize they helped create that monster and are suddenly running away from it to set up their own competing services, if it’s not too late. However, since we’ve been so spoiled by the Netflix model we’ve become especially reluctant to embrace this idea of subscribing to a bunch of different little services, especially when just a couple of years ago most of that programming was comfortably bundled together on Netflix.

      Reply

  3. I’ve been wondering about this sort of thing myself. In particular, I wonder how long Netflix will last because their costs have been going up while competition is also rising, but I’m also concerned about this trend in online streaming services. I mean, television may have been successfully initially because the new technology, but it stayed that way because of the great variety it offered at a single price. That’s how Netflix has been so profitable as well, and they’ve had the added benefits of lacking commercials and the ability to tailor the experience of television to one’s own tastes, personalizing it for each customer. If all these companies divide up the product, customers end of paying more and getting less, which no one will like for very long.

    Reply

    1. It’s funny you would say all of that. Just today, Netflix announced it’s raising prices for pretty much all of its plans other than the little-used $7.99 one (where you can’t stream on more than one device at the same device, and don’t get HD).

      But, of course, Netflix is doing this, they say, to help fund their continued push into original programming, and on this they have studied HBO’s history well and proved especially prescient in realizing eventually they needed an identity defined by their own product, not licensed older shows and films. The question is whether or not the customer support and loyalty they’ve built up through Stranger Things and countless others will be enough to offset the continuing exodus of older programming away from their service. As the rest of the industry decides Netflix doesn’t need their help and moves back catalogs over to Hulu or behind the paywalls of their network-specific streaming services, will Netflix be able to stop any kind of exodus of viewers while also holding their finances somewhat in check. They are, after all, billions of dollars in debt since they’ve taken on long-term debt to finance their original programming.

      However, I think Netflix’s content strategy actually aligns with what you said: “I mean, television may have been successful initially because the new technology, but it stayed that way because of the great variety it offered at a single price.” And that’s what Netflix has been doing with its originals, funding a crazy wide variety every weekend. For example, tons of people probably don’t even realize Netflix just dropped a kid-friendly Magic School Bus reboot, their kids probably do.

      Reply

      1. Fair point.

        Though, as diverse as Netflix’s programming is, they remain more like a single TV network, rather than an instrument for watching dozens or hundreds of networks. The TV was a nexus point, turn it on and watch anything on any channel, and everyone was able to make money off that. That’s what Netflix originally did, taking that entire experience and putting it online, where customers could personalize it, watch anything at any time. That’s what I mean when I talk about diversity, not the individual, differing shows but the “channels,” if you will.

        What Netflix and other streaming services are doing now is like dividing the channels up into smaller packages that have to be purchased individually. Which means customers have to choose between one or the other, and while that may be incentive to create superior content, it’s still gonna leave everyone hurting.

        So, the question is: how do the merge the benefits of TV, where everyone profits together, and the internet, where one can profit alone?

      2. “That’s what Netflix originally did, taking that entire experience and putting it online, where customers could personalize it, watch anything at any time. That’s what I mean when I talk about diversity, not the individual, differing shows but the “channels,” if you will.”

        Oh, I see your point now, and your parting question (“how do the merge the benefits of TV, where everyone profits together, and the internet, where one can profit alone?”) is one the industry will continue to grapple with for years to come. Hulu might be the best model for the potential future because it is a jointly-owned operation that benefits multiple corporate overlords, and is thus the definition of everyone profiting together on TV on the internet. However, even that seems to rub some networks and studios the wrong way because it still means funneling product into a glorified middleman instead of retreating to their own corner and keeping everything for themselves.

      3. I think the networks could stand to learn from the fast food industry.

        The uninitiated could easily assume it would be a terrible idea to build a Burger King across the street from McDonalds. Better to be in a location with no competition.

        However, experience proved the opposite to be true. Both restaurants benefit from the interest, attraction, and traffic of the other.

        By having all the network shows in a single paid service benefits everyone. People show up for a show by one network and discover a show from another network. If every network hordes their shows behind their own paid service, they get zero crossover traffic from popular shows on other networks.

  4. […] means exclusive to CBS and Star Trek Discovery; Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are scheduled to launch a streaming service next year which will have new but highly anticipated programs with DC Comics characters such as […]

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  5. […] means exclusive to CBS and Star Trek Discovery; Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are scheduled to launch a streaming service next year which will have new but highly anticipated programs with DC Comics characters such as […]

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