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Star Trek: Discovery fails to keep CBS All Access on-track

CBS All Access

Star Trek: Discovery was a big gamble by CBS. The broadcaster hoped it would be the spark that propelled CBS All Access into millions of American homes. It looks like the show has fallen far short of the mark.

CBS All Access subscriber growth slows

CBS says The Grammys provided the second-best day for subscriber signups to All Access, behind the launch of Star Trek: Discovery in September 2017. The company says it now has more than 2 million subscribers to All Access.

One year ago, CBS said that Showtime had 1.5 million subscribers and that the All Access had “almost as

Les Moonves CBS

Les Moonves, CBS head

many.” That means in the last year All Access has acquired around half-a-million new subscribers, or just over 40,000 subscribers a month. The annual growth rate is currently 33%, a strong performance by any measure. However, it looks like growth has slowed dramatically.

In July of 2016, CBS All Access had 1 million subscribers according to the company’s CEO Les Moonves. This data suggests the SVOD service acquired a half-million subscribers between July 2016 and February 2017, or about 70,000 subscribers a month. This data suggests an equivalent annual growth rate of more than 100%.

2017 growth is dramatically slower than 2016, despite the release of a blockbuster like Discovery.

How many Discovery viewers are there?

CBS Star Trek DiscoveryCBS does not release viewing figures for Star Trek: Discovery, so it is difficult to know exactly how many people are watching. However, we can estimate a maximum audience for the show from the subscriber numbers we do know.

A good proportion of the most recent signups to All Access likely came with the intention of watching at least some of the episodes of the show. Let us assume half of the new sign-ups, or 250,000, fall into that category. A popular show like Big Bang Theory is getting ratings of around 2.8 in the 18-49 age range for a total audience of 3.6 million. Assuming Discovery does at least this well with All Access customers signed up before it launched, we would see an additional 50,000 for a total of 300,000 subscribers watching.

Finally, we need to account for family viewing and the fact that most families share their SVOD passwords with each other. To be generous, let’s assume that if one person in an All Access household watches Discovery everyone does. Since there are 2.6 people in the average American home, the maximum audience for an episode of Star Trek: Discovery is 780,000.

The worst performing Star Trek was Enterprise in its final season. It got ratings between 2.5 and 3. Discovery’s U.S. audience doesn’t seem to be anything like that. Any way you look at it, the show is the least-watch Star Trek series in franchise history. CBS’s decision to release the show through All Access appears to have deprived it of most of its audience.

CBS could have a problem with All Access

These are not very encouraging results for CBS. The company has set itself the goal of reaching 8 million subscribers to Showtime and All Access combined by 2020. At the current rate of subscriber acquisition, CBS All Access will win an additional 1.4 million subscribers by the end of 2020, for a total of 3.5 million.

Star Trek: Discovery’s performance doesn’t bode well for the future of CBS All Access. The data suggests one big exclusive show is not enough to keep subscriber growth on track to pass CBS’s 2020 goal. To do that the company will have to keep releasing big-budget shows through the service.

Why it matters

CBS was looking to Star Trek: Discovery to deliver a surge in subscribers to the All Access subscription service.

It doesn’t look like the show delivered and CBS is in danger of missing its subscriber goal for 2020.

Releasing Star Trek: Discovery through All Access deprived it of much of its audience. The show is the least watched Star Trek in the franchise’s history.


(18) Comments

  1. I disagree with the methodology used to determine Star Trek Discovery viewership.
    Using this methodology use of Heroin in the USA is down 100% since 1924.
    CBS All Access may be a blunder, and this is obviously the point of your article, but the limited amount of viewers you include in your methodology by subscription password sharing barely accounts for viewers using other means. Bit-Torrent downloading, and quasi-legal Streaming On Demand sites most likely provide Discovery Episodes to more US Trek fans than All Access does.

    It’s unfortunate that you deemed it necessary to use Star Trek Discovery name recognition to bring attention to an otherwise accurate and informative article.

    • Little confused by your comment, Nathan. I wanted to discuss the value of Star Trek to CBS. That’s why I didn’t include file sharing and other illegal viewing methods. All the illegal activity can do for CBS is detract from the value of Star Trek (taking away potentially paying customers etc.) I was attempting to put an upper bound on legal viewers. Since it is generally accepted within the industry that people share subscriptions within a family, accounting for that seemed fair.

  2. I consider myself a big Star Trek fan, having watched all the series and owning every set that made it to blu-ray. However, I’m currently paying more than enough for TV. I can’t justify paying another $40+ for a one time viewing of a single season. For that price it better be a Blu-ray set that I can watch repeatedly.

    I may consider the $10 for a single month of binge watching, but since most ST:DIS news has passed, the feeling of being left out has also passed, and so I’m more inclined to just wait for the blu-rays.

  3. Pingback: Week In Review: Viacom Is Not A Prom King Network; Disney’s OTT Magic - TV[R]EV

  4. Dear Colin Dixon,

    Excellent Article Thank very much.

    If you look at ST Discovery’s ratings trend lines, their drop in ratings is the steepest of all the series. Not surprising because the writers and creators are inconsistent and flogging & imposing themes and story lines that are ‘alien’ to most viewers. Plus the story arcs have been erratic and schizophrenic, and they killed off the most interesting characters (Klingon Vos, Capt. Lorca, Klingon Tukuvma,) – on a whim (it seems) while resurrecting completely useless characters like Capt/Empress. Georgiou (really a weak, shallow and cartoonish character that suffers from wooden acting by M Yeoh). The data you provided is excellent and your extrapolations make a lot of sense.

    Loved the links to the stats that show the really poor trend lines for the post Star Trek TOS series (except Enterprise which seemed to drop off the least; i.e. was the most consistent in performance – it started off with low numbers in the first place due to —> explained in next sentence). Regarding Enterprise, it was saddled with the handicap of the previous stinkers, DS9 and, even worse, Voyager (Stats don’t lie, they’re objective not subjective). It seems that the management/creators/writers flogged unpopular themes or formats on viewers, viewers bailed, then the shows were adapted to comply with viewers tastes, but it’s too late because those that have already bailed don’t come back. The stats bear this out: once the series starts bleeding viewers, they never recover back to original ratings (except for for TNG which dropped and then came back for a short period but that was in an era of scifi monopoly and no altenatives: DS9 and Voyager didn’t have that luxury and their ratings drop was really steep).

  5. I’m a huge, HUGE Star Trek fan. I have watched every episode of Trek from the original series to ENTERPRISE. I have purchased every Trek series on DVD. I’ve gone to Trek conventions.

    Sorry CBS, I refuse to pay for your streaming service just to watch Star Trek Discovery. It’s not gonna happen. Here’s a wake up call for you CBS: Nobody really cares about your service. AT ALL. It’s just a matter of time before it fails completely.

    To make matters worse, I actually watched Star Trek Discovery when it was shown as a free debut. I can quite honestly say that it’s the worst incarnation of Star Trek I’ve ever seen. I actually watched a couple more episodes FOR FREE via non CBS sources (easy to find but a bit of a hassle) and was still unimpressed. I gave up watching the series. But, even if the series was OUTSTANDING I still wouldn’t subscribe to the crappy CBS service.

    Really sad that CBS ended up owning Trek and ruining it with their service and a very underwhelming series.


  6. I quite enjoyed the series. The story may have seemed a bit over the top but after waiting 16 years, I will take it! 16 years after Voyager, the best of all the series ended. Unlike many I ranked Voy highest and let’s face it Enterprise SUCKS, worst of them all… DS9 was hit or miss, but had some really, really good story arcs – section 31, mirror universe, and the Dominion war all wrapped up together quite well. While Next Gen was fairly good, it was about 25% great, 25% good, 25% crap, and 25% plain old shit. About 50/50 overall, a percentage that was pretty consistent across Gen, Voy, and DS9. TOS was about 25% great, 15% ok, 60% crapola. Enterprise about 10% great, 10% ok, 80% unwatchable other than to say I gave it a try, and saw them once but never again. Discovery was more like 70% great or good, 30% not so much. Anyone care to disagree with my analysis? No one? Great, I knew you all would agree with me!!!!

  7. I signed up for CBS All Access last Fall in anticipation of Star Trek Discovery. I just canceled my subscription. Star Trek Discovery wasn’t very good, so I never resumed watching it in January. There’s nothing else on CBS All Access of interest to me. I only got around to canceling my subscription now when I noticed I was still getting billed $10 a month for it. I suspect a lot of people are like me, but won’t notice they are being billed at all. So they’ll fall off their subscriptions as their credit cards expire.

  8. While Discovery’s fan base claims to be in the millions and I am sure it is, it falls far short of the Billions of fans the old series ranging from TOS to Enterprise. These fans claim that Discovery is the real Trek. Not sure how, first off the show stepped away from canon making severe changes to the series, yes we Star Trek fans know that canon has changed in the Star Trek series, we seen it and can confirm many, but the changes Discovery did were so huge it literally wiped the Star Trek slate clean and the producers and writers then added what they thought would be the new Trek. Many fans were excited when CBS announced the series, but that suffered a severe blow when it was discovered that it would be behind a pay wall, then those who did watch the first two free episodes were shocked by the severe changes the producers/writers did that many more left. Those fans who remain say that today’s standard of filming is the way the new Trek should be, Okay, I can agree to a very small part of this topic, but on the low side, to change ships, the Klingon’s, uniforms and more in such dramatic fashion left me wondering where the Star Trek was, only the characters were there i.e Sarek and the names of Kirk and Spock, the likes of Harry Mudd etc, nothing else explained the Trek. We were all told this was to take place 10 years before Kirk and Spock, not sure how it seems like it is 100 years past Voyager with all the tech and ship designs and the mutations of the Klingon’s.

  9. I watched the first 5 or 6 shows then dropped it. The effects are better than ever but as a compelling “Star Trek” iteration it’s almost unwatchable. It’s obvious the writers have only a passing interest in big picture science fiction and discovery themes. The narrative focus here is on small scale bickering and interpersonal conflict between a largely whining, arrogant, unlikeable cast of characters. The motivations and actions of of the characters make no sense and the main protagonist is presented as this super smart, hyper competent officer who keeps behaving like a self centered, petulant jerk and whose decisions seem unmoored from any notion of logic or common sense and her crew mates are little better. .

    On prior Treks the emphasis seem mainly (but not solely) directed outward to affirmative themes and positive outlook big picture problem solving and universal questions. Here there is little of that. Here the *real* narrative focus is on everyone’s personal angst and fighting with other people except it’s on a space ship.

  10. They never seem to mention how many people CANCEL All Access, but only provide increases in subscriptions. How many of those “increases” cancel after the free month?

  11. I live on an extremely tight budget so paying monthly to watch one TV show is out of the question.
    I have been a die-hard of Star Trek since the Cradle and did watch a few episodes of Discovery.
    Nothing about it reminds me of Star Trek in any way.
    I might have watched it on regular commercial TV to pass the time, but I have no intention of paying $10 monthly directly to CBS for the honor.
    I never thought I’d say this about my beloved Star Trek of which I have enjoyed everything I have seen even the ones most considered bad and not worth watching, Discovery is simply not worth it.

  12. I too am a Star Trek fan. I have very mixed feelings on the actual program. Can we say inconsistent? However, I am disappointed that CBS Acess is not transmitting the true sound that this show is encoded with. When the Discovery pilot aired on Network TV, be default the audio was Dolby Digital 5.1. On Access, it is 2.0. This is a SciFi program, I expect to hear every environmental sound possible. I fought with NetFlix years back on the same issue.

    I am not going to pay money for a service that does not even offer all the episodes of a series.

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