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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Delay Warps CBS’ All Access Plans

It’s not easy to make “Star Trek.” That was evident when, less than a week after the franchise’s 50th anniversary topped Twitter worldwide, CBS pushed back the launch of “Star Trek: Discovery,” citing the production demands of building a space-age future in the 21st century.

“Discovery,” which will be the first new “Star Trek” series in more than a decade, had been intended as the first scripted original to stream exclusively on the digital service CBS All Access. But the executive producers realized they needed more time to get it ready, so it will now debut in May, while a still-untitled spinoff of CBS’ “The Good Wife” will take over the February slot.

“Discovery” would have been a splashy coming out for All Access, the $6-a-month subscription service that CBS launched in 2014. As CBS faces competitors that are better established in the streaming space, and more aggressive in pursuit of original programming, it will have to ramp up All Access without a horde of “Star Trek” fans at its back .

“ ‘Star Trek’ has a very targeted and loyal audience,” says Bill Carroll of Katz TV Group. “It was an opportunity to reach that audience and have them go over and sample CBS All Access. Not that there isn’t an audience for a spinoff of ‘The Good Wife’ — but that’s potentially a different audience.”

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It’s a different and far narrower audience: Among women 25-54, the final season of “The Good Wife” ranked 54th out of all 2015-16 broadcast series in Nielsen live-plus-seven ratings. By comparison, it ranked 90th among men 25-54, 102nd among men 18-49, and 100th among men 18-34. Younger women also steered clear — “The Good Wife” finished 75th with women 18-49, and 105th with women 18-34, its worst demo.

The younger viewers who shunned “The Good Wife” are also those most enthusiastic about digital services like All Access. A 2015 Deloitte study found that 72% of consumers 14-25 identified streaming video as one of the market’s most valuable services, while only 58% said the same for pay TV. Among baby boomers, 89% cited pay TV as most valuable, and only 43% cited streaming.

Paramount’s feature film “Star Trek: Beyond,” meanwhile, drew a first-week audience in July that was 59% male, according to Comscore, with equal shares of men and women giving the movie a positive rating. Fifty-six percent of its viewers were between the ages  of 13 and 34.

There’s no doubt that the spinoff of “The Good Wife” will be a less ideal start for All Access’ scripted efforts. But despite the delay, CBS expects “Star Trek” fans to turn up when the series does debut in the spring.

Speaking at a Merrill Lynch conference in Los Angeles the day after “Discovery” was pushed back, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves was bullish on subscriber growth for All Access, which will also launch a spinoff of the unscripted franchise “Big Brother” this fall.

“We have said by 2020 we anticipate having 4 million subs for All Access, and 4 million for Showtime OTT,” Moonves said. “When ‘Star Trek’ comes on — ‘Good Wife,’ ‘Big Brother’ — we anticipate we’ll be ahead of 2020 for that 4 million.”

What remains to be seen is whether that rate of growth will be enough for All Access to compete against rivals such as Netflix, which boasts 47 million U.S. subscribers.

While CBS has laid out an initial plan to add four original series a year, Netflix had by last month premiered or ordered 71 original
scripted series, according to FX Networks research. And with a slate thus far made entirely of spinoffs from broadcast shows, CBS still needs to prove to the creative community that All Access can be the right home for the kinds of premium projects that go to cable and digital.

All Access may not have to go toe-to-toe with Netflix on originals, as it also has CBS’ library content and current programming — and a price point significantly lower than Netflix’s $9.99 standard plan — to lure would-be subscribers. A successful All Access might better resemble a souped-up, more vertically integrated Hulu than a mini-Netflix. And that might be more than enough to keep it boldly going where no broadcast network has gone before.

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