Sunday, October 1, 2017

CBS milks the Star Trek cash cow.

I'm almost never an early adopter, but I booted cable TV as soon as I could. At one point, we had a service whose name I won't mention (but whose initials are Cox Cable) that would periodically send us a letter that said, "Good news! We always strive to bring you the best in cable programming, so we're happy to tell you that we've added one/two/three new channels to your cable lineup! Of course, extra services cost money, so we are raising your rates by a dollar a month..." The new channels were almost never anything I was interested in, either. Thanks for nothing.

I always wished that I could fully customize my cable subscription so that I was paying only for the channels I wanted to watch: local channels, PBS, CNN, the Weather Channel, maybe a couple of movie channels, and that would pretty much be it.

Yeah, well, be careful what you wish for. The future is here, and it's not nearly as cost-effective as I thought it would be.

Last week, we started watching CBS's newest entry in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek: Discovery. By the time we got around to it, the first two episodes (of 15) were already out. It's a good show so far -- not in the same league as Gene Roddenberry's original shows, with their optimistic and altruistic worldview, but good. The main character is Michael Burnham, a human woman who was raised on Vulcan, rises in Starfleet to the position of First Officer, and then gets court-martialed for mutiny.

What interests me here is how CBS is handling the show: Only the first episode was shown on the over-the-air network. To see the remaining 14 episodes, you have to sign up for CBS All Access, the network's three-year-old streaming service. You get the first week free, but then it's $5.99 per month if you don't mind seeing a few commercials, or $9.99 per month if you want your programming commercial-free.

Say you're a confirmed Trekkie and you couldn't wait to see this new Star Trek show. So you watched the first show for free -- and it's basically part one of two. It ends on a cliffhanger. So you signed up for the free week of streaming, because why wouldn't you want to see how the cliffhanger turns out? But when you watched the second episode, you discovered the first two shows are Michael Burnham's backstory, and the real story doesn't get going until episode three. So now you're in for either six bucks or ten for at least one month, and probably four in order to watch the whole series.

It's an interesting marketing approach, and seems designed mainly to drive viewers to All Access. CBS isn't making many fans with this programming decision, but it seems to be working: the initial showing of episode 2 gave All Access its best day ever. It's unclear whether fans will continue to pay for exclusive content like this, when they're already shelling out for Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand channels. For viewers who prefer to binge-watch TV seasons, it may not play well. But for those of us who grew up with old-style over-the-air TV, waiting a week to see a new episode feels very familiar. And there's one saving grace with streaming: You'll never miss the first five minutes of your show.

I just wish it didn't cost so much.

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Remember last week, when I said I might be done with the first draft of Maggie at Moonrise by tonight? Well, I made it. In fact, I finished the first draft last night. It's about 57,000 words, which is a little bit longer than the previous two books in the series, and the tone is lighter than the other two books. I'm hopeful for a release around the end of October, but don't quote me.

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These moments of TV-inspired blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Engage!
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