When the new Star Trek series debuts exclusively on CBS All Access in January 2017, you won’t be able to binge watch it all in one sitting, well not at first anyways. CBS will treat it like any other broadcast show and release just one new episode a week.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, I hope you’ve got patience. I know that the majority of TV still airs on a weekly basis, but there’s something about streaming that makes me want to hit play and curl up on the couch for hours. Of course Netflix and Amazon are completely to blame for this response, but for me the weekly model just doesn’t really work online.
I was a huge fan of Community, yet I had to actively remember to check out Yahoo Screen each week for a new episode. And based on how well that worked out, I’m betting I wasn’t the only one. To be fair I’d only ever used Yahoo Screen once before so it’s not like that was a site or Roku channel I typically visited.
I also gave Netflix’s original series Between a shot, but stopped watching after one or two episodes. (Between is co-produced with a Canadian network so Netflix has to wait for episodes to air north of the border before making them available on their site.) Of course in this case, the delivery may not have been the problem, I seemed to agree with a handful of TV critics that the show did little to make me want to see more. Joshua Alston from The A.V. Club said it best:
If Between was streaming in its entirety from the day of its premiere, the pilot might be enough to warrant watching a second episode, if only because auto-play is activated and the remote is all the way across the room. But without a tantalizing hook to lure its viewers, nor the illusion of momentum that binge-watching creates, Between will be a tough sell.
You might be thinking at this point, what about The Mindy Project? And that’s a valid example to bring into this discussion. Hulu just renewed the show for a fifth season, so something must be working for them over there. But The Mindy Project originally aired on FOX so fans were already accustomed to waiting week-to-week for a new episode. Plus, much of Hulu’s content hits the site on a weekly basis anyways as new episodes for many shows are only made available after they’ve first aired on TV.
My gripe goes beyond the convenience factor though. As a fan, the weekly episode drop for streaming makes it harder to have a watercooler moment. For example, Game of Thrones airs every Sunday night at 9pm and you better believe I am both watching it live and Tweeting along. And when Making a Murderer hit Netflix in December I plowed through that series at a rate equal to or faster than my co-workers in order to chat about the newly presented theories and evidence.
On streaming services, new episode are usually dropped at midnight pacific time so it’s harder to coordinate viewing. I assume most people who are really engaged in a series will watch a new episode before the next one comes out, or as soon as possible, but it’s less of a scheduled event. And to me that’s a bummer. I like the social aspect of TV.
Maybe I’m overthinking all of this, after all, I am not a normal TV viewer. Maybe other people, more casual viewers, are less concerned about watching a new episode as soon as possible or don’t feel the need to talk about all the details with fellow fans. And that’s fine too – to each their own.
To bring this back to CBS though, the weekly release schedule is a by-product of the traditional broadcast model and something that already has begun to feel out-dated as time-shifting and binge watching increasingly have become the new norm. Applying that logic to their shiny new Star Trek series on their stand-alone streaming service seems like they are missing the point.
But what do I know, maybe the power of Star Trek and it’s dedicated fanbase will be able to overcome whatever barriers present themselves. The foremost being that you’ll need to be a CBS All Access subscriber, or know someone who is, to even view the new episodes. I guess we’ll just have to wait until the new year to see how it all plays out.
For more thoughts on CBS’s silly Star Trek strategy, listen to the Appointment Television podcast. They’ve got some interesting theories as to why CBS would forgo the Netflix model and make viewers wait each week for more.