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.
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.