The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.
That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.
There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.
There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.
Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.
But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.
On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.
The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.
And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.
The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.
I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.
And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.
One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.
But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.
However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.
What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.
In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.
It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.
To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.
Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.
For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.
This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.