A few years ago the main selling point of streaming was centralization - you'd be paying for one subscription, most likely for Netflix, to get all the shows you wanted to watch. It was heralded as cheaper, more convenient TV. Then it was two subscriptions, then three - these days, subscription services are dime a dozen, with Paramount+ joining the battle too.
Its weapon of choice? Star Trek.
With every company and their cat launching a streaming service, each of which has its own roster of 'must-watch' exclusives, viewers aren't really ahead. Streaming may have delivered on the promise of convenience, but it really isn't a cost effective or less fragmented alternative to television as was envisioned. In this immensely competitive market, streaming services rely on exclusive content to secure viewers.
Netflix has become as much of a film and TV production studio as a streaming service, creating much of its own exclusive content. Meanwhile, a lot of other platforms have been launched by companies that were studios first, so in-house exclusive production is a given. Others rely on having exclusive rights to major franchises. Sometimes these approaches are mixed, like Disney+ being the home of brand new, exclusive Star Wars content.
Paramount+ isn't as much of a success story as most of its rivals, at least not yet. You don't really hear about the service in the news, or about its exclusive content - but the company is keen on changing that, and their bets are hedged on writer, director and producer Alex Kurtzman, and they've given him control of one of the biggest sci-fi franchises to achieve success.
Star Trek was always the more thoughtful and scientifically oriented of the two major star-something space opera franchises most people think about when mainstream sci-fi is discussed. Sure, Star Wars is science fantasy, but you and everyone else still thinks about it when hearing 'sci-fi' - though the rebooted franchise of blockbuster movies waylaid that heritage for a more action oriented approach.
Kurtzman and his producing partner and long-time best friend Roberto Orci worked together to revitalize the Star Trek brand in 2009 with the reboot film, styled as an alternative universe take on The Original Series. Involved with Trek ever since, Kurtzman went on to write and produce a number of media including Into Darkness, Lower Decks, Short Treks and Picard.
While the more action oriented, blockbuster style taken on by Star Trek (2009), Into Darkness, and Beyond didn't sit well with many fans of the popular television shows the franchise consisted of in the past, their successes at the box office gave the IP a new lease of life, to be followed by Discovery and a slew of other spin-offs and follow-ups. Star Trek: Picard maintains the most direct links to the original continuity and timeline, being a direct sequel to The Next Generation and following the titular captain's new (mis)adventures.
If Paramount and Kurtzman's new contract is anything to go on, this is just the beginning.
CBS Studios, parent company of the Paramount label and itself part of ViacomCBS, recently renegotiated their deal with Kurtzman. The new $160 million, five-and-a-half-year agreement keeps Kurtzman in the captain's chair of the Star Trek franchise, which is projected to power the Paramount+ streaming service with more shows on the way.
While it would an overstatement to say that Paramount+ is currently struggling, it's definitely not in an ideal place. Essentially a rebranded CBS All Access, the service only scraped together 36 million subscribers. Sure, 36 million is, in a vacuum, a colossal number - that's multiple countries - but it falls woefully short of the 100 to 200 million viewers that other services boast.
CBS has set a goal of reaching 65 million to 75 million global subscribers by 2024 - still falling short of the competition - and hopes are that Kurtzman and new Star Trek content will get it there, among other offerings. Even so, many analysts are skeptical that Paramount+ and other studio-backed services can survive in a world with Amazon, Netflix and Apple.
The main risk here is fragmentation, one that CBS definitely experiences. Netflix puts everything on Netflix, Amazon puts everything on Prime Video; meanwhile companies like CBS need to juggle television, theatre and streaming. Even Disney, which has achieved major success with Disney+, is constantly wrangling its various content delivery platforms, and this has led to various legal rows such as the recent Black Widow lawsuit.
None of this is putting any brakes on Kurtzman's plans for the Star Trek franchise on Paramount+. Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are launching later this year and sometime in 2022 respectively, with additional untitled series currently in production, including one revolving around Section 31 and another set at Starfleet Academy.
I think we’re just getting started. There’s just so much more to be had.
Star Trek is aiming to broaden its audience base with more content aimed at children in the works. Additionally, Kurtzman has expressed a desire to push the franchise in more weird directions, and has entertained a recent pitch centered around the character of Worf. It isn't clear where exactly Star Trek is headed, but the next few years will see the release of the most content from the IP ever.
Will it save Paramount+ or help it breach the final frontier? We'll just have to wait and see.