ViacomCBS surprised me at the beginning of the month by announcing that Star Trek: Lower Decks will premiere on the 6th of August. Since then we’ve also had a trailer for the new series, and if you read the piece I wrote looking at the the trailer, you’ll know I think it looks like a show with great potential. In fact it isn’t unfair to say that Lower Decks is the series I’m most looking forward to at the moment.
In the 1990s, during Star Trek’s “golden age” when The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager were carrying the flag for the franchise, it didn’t really matter that here in the UK and in other countries, episodes and seasons of the various Star Trek shows would be broadcast months or even years after they debuted on American television. The web was in its infancy, and with most people not online, spoilers were hard to come by. Online fan communities, social media groups, YouTube channels, and even websites like this one didn’t exist. There were fan clubs, of course, as there always had been, but we weren’t as connected as we are today. Because of all that, Star Trek could get away with splitting up its releases.
In 2020 that just isn’t acceptable any more to huge numbers of fans. It was absolutely awful for Disney to release The Mandalorian in the USA months ahead of the international rollout of Disney+. And what was the consequence of that decision? The show became the most heavily-pirated of 2019 across most of the world, in the areas where Disney+ wasn’t available. Refusing to delay the series – one of the new platform’s flagships – cost the company money and reputational damage in the long run.
It felt as though Disney didn’t care about Star Wars’ international fans – a fanbase that numbers in at least the tens of millions – by denying them access to the first ever live-action Star Wars television series. And it feels as though ViacomCBS similarly places no value on Star Trek’s international fans too, as Lower Decks currently has no international premiere scheduled.
This is completely stupid.
As I’ve said before, Star Trek’s international fanbase must be at least equal in size, if not larger, than the number of American fans. Yet ViacomCBS consistently shows us how little we matter. The official Star Trek online shop offers a large number of items, but most of them will only ship to addresses in North America. In the run-up to Star Trek: Picard’s launch late last year I wanted to get a t-shirt of the show’s poster. Did Star Trek offer one to international fans? Of course not. I did eventually track one down – from an unlicensed printer here in the UK – as you may recall if you read my review of Picard’s premiere. But that’s beside the point – why is ViacomCBS gating off its merchandise? It’s free advertising; in fact it isn’t even free, fans like me are literally willing to pay money to wear a shirt or buy a poster advertising Star Trek. Why wouldn’t any company want to take advantage of that?
ViacomCBS has even gone so far as to block YouTube videos and parts of its website to international fans. Not shipping merchandise overseas may seem like an oversight – though that’s still a piss-poor excuse – but actively blocking the Picard trailer outside the US when it first premiered was a conscious choice. Why would ViacomCBS shoot itself in the foot so many times when it comes to marketing its shows internationally? Do they want international fans to give up on Star Trek? It’s bad enough that in order to watch both Discovery and Picard we need to subscribe to two different platforms, but some of these decisions are just blatantly disrespectful.
Then there’s Short Treks. Though the episodes are now finally available internationally as a blu-ray set, why were they never broadcast or made available to stream? The whole point of Short Treks was to keep the Star Trek brand alive in the minds of fans and the wider audience in between seasons of the main shows. In that sense, it’s half-story, half-advertising. Yet the episodes didn’t make their way here. That’s despite the fact that two episodes of Short Treks in particular were very important: Runaway introduced a character who would have a big role toward the end of Discovery’s second season, but most egregiously Children of Mars was a prologue leading into the events of Picard. For some inexplicable reason it wasn’t shown outside of the US before Picard premiered. If you read my review of it you’ll know I was underwhelmed, but this was our first look at the Star Trek universe in the 24th Century in eighteen years. Many fans, myself included, were incredibly excited to see Star Trek move beyond Nemesis, yet ViacomCBS didn’t care enough to make the story available here.
In the weeks leading up to Children of Mars, I was continually checking in with Star Trek and various unofficial sources to find out where and how I’d be able to watch. But ViacomCBS didn’t even bother to say that the episode wouldn’t be available internationally. Even on the day Remembrance (Picard’s premiere) was made available to stream, I was still half-hoping that Children of Mars would be too. But it wasn’t.
ViacomCBS are going out of their way to create another division in the Star Trek fan community: between fans in North America who can watch everything, buy all the merchandise, etc. and fans in the rest of the world who can’t. At least until now the main episodes of the shows were available, but it seems like Lower Decks may not be. Just looking at this from a business perspective, how is that any way to make a successful and profitable entertainment product? And as fans, being made to feel like we’re unimportant and that Star Trek isn’t interested in us is not going to end well – it risks building up resentment and upsetting people.
Lower Decks premieres in seventeen days’ time, but fans outside North America still don’t know how, when, or where we’ll be able to see it. The series should have never been announced without its international broadcast rights secured, and if it’s the case the negotiations are still going on behind the scenes with companies like Netflix, this needs to be concluded ASAP! Some fans may need to reactivate lapsed subscriptions – or pick up a wholly new subscription, as I did in 2017 for Discovery. For people on lower incomes in particular, knowing which platform to subscribe to to see the show is very important. And I don’t give any credence to the idea that ViacomCBS is somehow saving the international broadcast details to reveal at a later date – like this week’s upcoming panel at Comic-Con@Home. Leaving it to the last minute on purpose would be idiotic.
If it’s the case that, for whatever reason, the series isn’t going to be broadcast internationally in August, fans have a right to know. As it is, many of us are holding our breath waiting for news, and the very least ViacomCBS could do is disappoint us now and get it out of the way instead of stringing us along providing no news.
The trailer for Lower Decks looked like so much fun, and I really believe that the show could be a success, both in North America and internationally. But in order to be a success it needs to be available for fans and a wider audience to watch, and so far that doesn’t seem to be happening. I think it would be a huge mistake to delay the international release too, as all of the momentum and excitement behind it will dissipate before people in the rest of the world get a chance to tune in.
ViacomCBS: please sort this out. Whether it’s going to be Netflix, Amazon, another streaming service, or a regular broadcast television channel, pick someone to be the international broadcaster, sign the papers, and get the word out before you lose the opportunity to show off Lower Decks to legions of potential new Star Trek fans. Your international fanbase is here waiting too, but we’re beginning to run out of patience.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.