Type to search

FinTech Tech

CBS Bets Big on ‘Star Trek: Picard’ to Boost Streaming Business

Share
CBS Bets Big on ‘Star Trek: Picard’ to Boost Streaming Business

As the overseer of the “Star Trek” television properties for Viacom

CBS Inc.,


VIAC -0.72%

producer

Alex Kurtzman

is charged with updating the space drama for a new generation without alienating its hard-core fans.

But he knows there is much more at stake: ViacomCBS is counting on the franchise to help its streaming service, CBS All Access, hold its own against a field of larger rivals in Hollywood.

The next big test comes Thursday with the much-anticipated debut of “Star Trek: Picard,” which stars

Patrick Stewart

reprising his role as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard from an earlier edition of the series. The series is exclusive to All Access. A separate “Star Trek” series, “Discovery,” has aired exclusively on All Access since 2017, and an animated comedy called “Lower Decks,” about support staff on a Star Trek starship, is in the works.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

With established series like “Star Trek,” how would you continue to make content that pleases the existing fan base but also looks to expand it? Join the conversation below.

The goal is to have a Star Trek series on All Access throughout the year so fans don’t sign up for just a few months and then cancel—an issue that all streaming services confront. “You’ve got to have something on all the time that gives people a reason to stay,” Mr. Kurtzman said. “Star Trek allows them to have a constant flow of audience.”

What “Star Wars” and “The Avengers” are to

Walt Disney Co.,

and “Batman” and “Superman” are to

AT&T Inc.’s

WarnerMedia, “Star Trek” is to ViacomCBS—a franchise with a rich history and a built-in audience. More than 50 years after creator Gene Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” series set off to boldly go where no man had gone before, and after a host of TV series and movies that followed over several decades, there is still an insatiable appetite for the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.

To Boldly Go

For over five decades, TV series and movies have mined the Star Trek universe, capitalizing on its enduring appeal to fans.

Rotten Tomatoes audience scores

Premiering in 1966, the first Star Trek series lasted three seasons until it was canceled due to low ratings. The show became more popular once its reruns started airing.

The 1990s saw the highest concentration of Star Trek content, with three TV series and films nearly every two years.

Following popular film reboots, CBS began developing new TV series for its All Access streaming service, starting with ‘Discovery.’

Rotten Tomatoes audience scores

Premiering in 1966, the first Star Trek series lasted three seasons until it was canceled due to low ratings. The show became more popular once its reruns started airing.

The 1990s saw the highest concentration of Star Trek content, with three TV series and films nearly

every two years.

Following popular film reboots, CBS began developing new TV series for its All Access streaming service, starting with ‘Discovery.’

Rotten Tomatoes audience scores

Premiering in 1966, the first Star Trek series lasted three seasons until it was canceled due to low ratings. The show became more popular once its reruns started airing.

The 1990s saw the highest concentration of Star Trek content, with three TV series and films nearly every two years.

Following popular film reboots, CBS began developing new TV series for its All Access streaming service, starting with ‘Discovery.’

Rotten Tomatoes audience scores

Premiering in 1966, the first Star Trek series lasted three seasons until it was canceled due to low ratings. The show became more popular once its reruns started airing.

The 1990s saw the highest concentration of Star Trek content.

Following popular film reboots, CBS began developing new TV series for its All Access streaming service, starting with ‘Discovery.’

For ViacomCBS Inc., which grew out of the merger of CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. last year, “Star Trek” is its best weapon in a crowded streaming battlefield where current combatants like

Netflix Inc.,

Amazon.com Inc.,

Disney’s Disney+ and Hulu will soon be joined by AT&T Inc.’s HBO Max and Comcast Corp.’s Peacock.

ViacomCBS hasn’t disclosed how many subscribers All Access has, but people familiar with the service put the figure around five million. Netflix has more than 158 million subscribers globally, and Hulu has 28.5 million in the U.S. Disney+ signed up 10 million users in the day following its launch, Disney said.

Mr. Kurtzman’s first “Star Trek” missions were co-writing the J.J. Abrams-directed 2009 feature film “Star Trek” and 2013’s “Star Trek into Darkness” with his then-producing partner

Roberto Orci.

When CBS later decided to use “Star Trek” as the flagship for its streaming service, it reached out to Mr. Kurtzman.

“Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard” are easily the most expensive programming on All Access, costing between $8 million and $9 million an episode, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard and Mr. Kurtzman behind the scenes of ‘Star Trek: Picard.’ The franchise is the best weapon ViacomCBS has in a field packed with rival streaming services.


Photo:

Trae Patton/CBS Interactive, Inc.

“If you’re going to ask people to pay $10 a month for content, you better deliver them content they are not going to get on network television,” Mr. Kurtzman said. CBS All Access, which also carries live CBS broadcast programming, costs $5.99 with ads and $9.99 a month for a commercial-free version.

ViacomCBS doesn’t have the same content arsenal of its bigger rivals—and isn’t churning out as many originals for its platform. But ViacomCBS Chief Digital Officer

Marc DeBevoise

said people are underestimating the company: All Access will have a new original every month, he said, and tentpole shows such as “Picard” every quarter.

“There is more than one seat on the streaming rocket ship,” Mr. DeBevoise said at a recent television industry event.

The streaming wars might mean you have way more options when it comes to platforms and content for entertainment. But ultimately, paying for all those options is going to look a lot like the high prices you used to pay for your old-school cable package. Photo: Alexandra Cardinale

Starfleet Command for the 46-year-old Mr. Kurtzman is a pair of nondescript brick buildings in Santa Monica, Calif. Inside the 15,000-square-foot space are enough tchotchkes, toys and props for a “Star Trek” convention ranging from lunchboxes and pinball machines to tribbles, a Borg Regeneration Alcove and a full-size T’Kuvma Klingon statue.

There are also multiple writers rooms and edit bays that Mr. Kurtzman visits for his many projects. Besides the All Access series, he is developing the cartoon “Star Trek Prodigy” for ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon network; a miniseries based on former FBI Director

James Comey’s

book “A Higher Loyalty;” and a CBS crime drama about the character Clarice Starling from the “Silence of the Lambs” movie.

Viewership of Star Trek shows has declined over time, reflecting greater competition for audiences in an expanding TV landscape.

Household rating by series*

*The estimate of the percentage of households that watch a particular show.

Viewership of Star Trek shows has declined over time, reflecting greater competition for audiences in an expanding TV landscape.

Household rating by series*

*The estimate of the percentage of households that watch a particular show.

Viewership of Star Trek shows has declined over time, reflecting greater competition for audiences in an expanding TV landscape.

Household rating by series*

*The estimate of the percentage of households that watch a particular show.

Viewership of Star Trek shows has declined over time, reflecting greater competition for audiences in an expanding TV landscape.

Household rating by series*

*The estimate of the percentage of households that watch a particular show.

“He is building an empire,” said David Stapf, president of CBS Television Studios, where Mr. Kurtzman is based. “He’s capable of doing more than one thing at a time, which makes him incredibly valuable to us.”

A Los Angeles native, Mr. Kurtzman was a latecomer to Star Trek. His tastes initially ran more toward independent film and personal stories. He gained an appreciation for science fiction and fantasy as a writer and producer on the shows “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

Mr. Kurtzman later ended up working on Mr. Abrams’s television shows “Alias” and “Fringe,” as well as the “Star Trek” feature films, which was when he took a crash course in the show’s rich culture.

Convincing Mr. Stewart to reprise his role from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” a hit that ran in syndication from 1987 to 1994, wasn’t easy. Mr. Kurtzman and his team pitched the idea of a show about Capt. Picard in the twilight of his life, second-guessing his leadership as a new mystery arises.

“He listened carefully. And he said, ’Thank you, no,’” Mr. Kurtzman said. A few days later, Mr. Stewart’s agent called and asked to see some pages outlining an idea. Mr. Kurtzman sent over 34 pages, and Mr. Stewart was sold.

Convincing Mr. Stewart to reprise his role as Picard wasn’t easy. One concession made to the 79-year-old actor: He rarely wears his old uniform in the new series.


Photo:

Trae Patton/CBS Interactive|, Inc.

“I think he understood we were not looking to repeat anything,” Mr. Kurtzman said. One concession made to the 79-year-old Mr. Stewart: He rarely wears his old uniform on the show.

“Star Trek” has often sought to address social and political issues, and “Picard” is no exception as some of the story line echoes the U.S. immigration debate. The show “has always been an amazing mirror that holds itself up to our modern world as it exists now,” Mr. Kurtzman said.

Like all hard-core fans of something, Trekkers—who eschew the Trekkies moniker—can be a difficult bunch to please. Earlier this month, Mr. Kurtzman’s Wikipedia page was vandalized and changed from “best known for executive producing” the “Star Trek” franchise to “best known for ruining” it.

Mr. Kurtzman takes it in stride and is devoted to the fans, even if the affection isn’t always mutual. “The fans are the true owners of ’Star Trek,’” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’ve dishonored something that’s meaningful to them.”

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Source link

Tags:

Leave a Comment