ByTom Bacon, writer at
I'm a film-and-TV fan who grew up with a deep love of superhero comics! Follow me on Twitter @TomABacon or on Facebook @tombaconsuperheroes!
Tom Bacon

Star Trek: Discovery is proving to be a remarkable success for CBS, driving record subscriptions to the network's All Access streaming service. Only six episodes in, the series has performed well enough for the network to renew it for a second season. But that very decision raises intriguing questions about their future of CBS All Access, the streaming app on which Discovery exclusively streams.

A Controversial Strategy

CBS All Access was launched in 2014, but it's never been one of the more popular streaming services. In large part that's because CBS has typically used it to release reruns of popular series, although it doesn't actually host the full CBS library. Discovery, however, marked a high-profile change in strategy for the network.

The first episode of Discovery aired on CBS, drawing in 9.6 million viewers. Future episodes, however, have only been available on the All Access app. It's a policy that has led to a surge in piracy when it comes to Discovery, but that has also seen CBS report record subscriptions. We'd initially been concerned that the subscriptions could drop off after a seven-day trial period, but it seems the subscriber growth has been long-term enough for Discovery to be renewed.

It's a delightful success for the new Star Trek series. Fans had been convinced that this strategy would be a mistake, and that Discovery would be doomed simply because nobody would subscribe to another streaming platform. Those fears seem to have been proved to be unfounded, to the extent that CBS has renewed the series.

But What Next?

This raises intriguing questions about CBS's future direction. Discovery is one of the first successful original series to be streamed exclusively on the app. So what happens to those subscriptions once the first season is over?

The Good Fight was the first attempt at an All Access original series, which premiered with 7.2 million viewers and was renewed for a second season as well. CBS has strategically schedule its second season to begin after the first of the year to stagger new content on the streaming platform. However, the network can't bank on the idea of these two very different shows pulling in the same audience.

Most subscription services depend on the idea that people are forgetful. The average person forgets what exactly he or she has subscribed to, so CBS's hope will be that people will just forget to cancel their subscriptions when Discovery comes to an end. But that's a dangerous thing to depend on, not least because it only takes a little bad press to remind subscribers that they're not using the app.

Discovery and The Good Fight pave the way to a very different approach. The success of these shows reassure CBS that, like Netflix, they have an app that could well be driven by original content. It tells CBS execs that people will register for the streaming service if they produce exclusive, well-received content. The only way to secure the long-term future of the app is to provide still more additional content. Doing so would ensure a constant flow of engaged users.

That, of course, faces CBS with a very real challenge. They know that the industry is moving in this direction anyway. Netflix's whole business model is oriented around original content, while Disney is only a year and a half away from launching its own dedicated streaming service. CBS already has an app, and in a market that's suddenly looking crowded, the only way to differentiate it is with additional content that isn't available anywhere else. On the other hand, CBS also own a network, and they can't afford the network to be stripped of its assets. The company is faced with a very delicate balancing act.

Star Trek: Discovery may have been a tremendous success for CBS, and it's also a step forward in the network's new business strategy. With even higher ratings than The Good Fight, it proves that CBS All Access has far more potential as a streaming service than just to play reruns. Instead, this app needs to become a home of ever more original content. But where CBS's competitors are purely focused on streaming, the network has to play things much more carefully.

Do you think CBS's approach to Discovery is the right one? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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