CBS All Access is now halfway through releasing the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. The series has been warmly welcomed by critics, a boon for CBS’s still young streaming service, and – despite what some fans may claim – stays true to the legacy of Star Trek while taking it in an exciting new direction.
And yet some fans still resist Star Trek: Discovery on the simple grounds that it is a streaming show and not on traditional television. There have been several permutations of this complaint, but they all boil down to fans not wanting to spend the $5.99 a month for a CBS All Access streaming subscription.
Sorry Star Trek fans, but its time to admit that your resistance to CBS All Access is both futile and highly illogical.
One of the most common reasons for refusing to sign up for CBS All Access, if not calling for an outright boycott of the show, is that the cost of cable television is too high already and that it is, therefore, ridiculous for CBS to pay an extra cost to watch Star Trek: Discovery. But as common as the argument is, it doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny.
These complaints are correct about one thing: cable is too expensive. According to one 2016 report, Americans pay $103 a month for cable. According to other investigations, that’s about double what cable and internet customers in Europe pay for what is, on average, worse cable and internet service.
However, none of that is CBS’s fault, at least not directly, because CBS is not a cable company. It isn’t even a cable channel. Its a broadcast network, and it does not decide how much money to charge you for cable access.
Those same reports say that the reason cable providers in the United States get away with charging so much for so little is a lack of competition. So how does boycotting CBS All Access, an alternative platform for televised content, bring your cable bill down?
If fans are in fact angry about their cable bills, they'd be better served by boycotting their cable provider or at least getting interested in relevant issues like the political fight over net neutrality and communications company mergers like the one proposed between AT&T and Time Warner.
Another flaw in this reasoning is that it has proved false in the past. For years, HBO has proved that customers will absolutely pay extra for premium content, and there are too many people out there with cable subscriptions as well as subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and/or Amazon Prime’s streaming service to argue that the idea doesn’t carry over to streaming platforms.
But let’s break down the actual cost CBS All Access. Assuming you are a customer who is only using CBS All Access to watch Star Trek: Discovery, you are paying $5.99 for, on average, four hours of entertainment. That averages out to paying about $1.50 per hour of entertainment.
Let’s compare that to some other popular forms of entertainment. The average cost of a movie ticket as of the first quarter of 2017 was closing in on $9. That means, for a two-hour movie, patrons are paying $4.50 per hour each, and the “each” part is important since friends can watch Star Trek: Discovery as a group with a single CBS All Access account, even further stretching its value.
Let’s look at video games. They cost around $60 dollars for a retail release, and some can be as short as six hours, meaning players pay $10 per hour of entertainment. Even for a 10-hour game, that's still $6 per hour. In order to reach Star Trek: Discovery levels of value, a video game needs to last 40 hours, and while some games can go on for that long, and multiplayer modes can extend a game’s lifespan, those are neither standard nor guaranteed.
In the case of comic books, which are admittedly more niche, an issue sells for an average of $4 each. The average Marvel or DC Comics release offers about 15 minutes worth of reading material, meaning comic book fans are handing over $16 per hour of comic book enjoyment.
So then why are fans so made about paying for Star Trek: Discovery when so many so often pay so much more for so much less? For less than the cost of a decent sandwich, you get four hours of entertainment.
It's true that, for some people in some economic situations, $6 a month can be a lot, but it is still a bargain compared to other entertainment offers. The cost can be dividing up further by watching with friends and, for the patient type, you can wait until multiple months worth of episodes have aired and binge watch them all in a single month. With the first chapter of Star Trek: Discovery now concluded it seems like the perfect time sign up for CBS All Access and run through all nine episodes in time for chapter two to begin in January.
For some fans, the answer seems to be that its a matter of principle. Star Trek: Discovery being on a streaming service somehow goes against the egalitarian spirit of Star Trek as creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned it. Some even claim that Star Trek: Discovery only exists to convince people to sign up for CBS All Access.
Those people are probably right. But so what? There are always both creative and commercial interests involved in the creation of a television series. NBC didn’t order Star Trek: The Original Series out of the goodness of their heart, and they canceled it when they decided it wasn’t profitable enough.
Even more similar to Star Trek: Discovery is the origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which leveraged the popularity of the Star Trek name to boost the syndicated television branch of CBS and Paramount’s media empire. And, just like with Star Trek: Discovery, many fans of the era dismissed the new show out of hand for being an affront to Star Trek tradition despite Roddenberry’s involvement. However, none of that stopped Star Trek: The Next Generation from becoming a great television show. The Next Generation remains the only syndicated television series nominated for an Emmy Award and it won 19 of them.
It is simply good business for CBS to put Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access. Even in the 1960s, the budget of a science fiction television series was hard for a network to justify. That’s why Star Trek: The Original Series was ultimately canceled, despite having decent ratings, and later became a series of movies instead. Star Trek: Discovery is simply too expensive a television show to exist on broadcast television, with a per episode budget in the Game of Thrones range, even if that was what CBS wanted for it.
In the end, CBS All Access is here to stay. Some fans feel cheated that international audiences can watch it on Netflix or elsewhere, but that is a temporary arrangement since CBS has already announced plans to expand CBS All Access into international markets. And soon another relaunch of a classic science fiction television show, The Twilight Zone, will be joining Star Trek: Discovery on the streaming service. Meanwhile, Netflix is already becoming a leaner streaming service, focusing more on its own original properties like Stranger Things while Marvel prepares to take its television series to Disney’s own proprietary streaming service. Even DC Comics is getting ready to launch a new streaming home for Young Justice and the Titans television series.
And there are some good reasons to complain about CBS All Access. Some fans have experienced buffering issues, the app doesn’t support surround sound, and it crashes far more routinely than it should. If CBS wants All Access to play with the big kids in the streaming world then the app needs to just work without these kinds of problems. But those are all technical issues that will likely be resolved through updates, and probably even faster now that Star Trek: Discovery is bringing so many new users to the platform.
So just let it go Star Trek fans. If you’ve watched Star Trek: Discovery and decided that it isn’t for you, that’s fine. No show worth watching pleases everybody. But any Star Trek fan owes it to themselves to at least give the show a shot, and not doing so simply because it exists on CBS All Access just doesn’t make any sense.
It’s time to boldly go into the streaming world.
New Star Trek: Discovery episodes become available to stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access.