I’m trying to get my thoughts in order with June just around the corner. Here in the UK we’re just over three weeks away from the (alleged) launch date of Paramount+, and despite my criticisms of Paramount Global and the jokes I’ve made on social media, I truly want to be able to sign up for the platform and give my financial backing to the renewed Star Trek franchise. But I’m not sure that I can, at least not at the moment.
As a disabled person on a fixed income, the current inflation and cost of living crisis is hitting me particularly hard. Since the start of this year I’ve cancelled my plans for an upgrade to my slow internet connection and also let go of my Netflix subscription. I’d originally signed up for Netflix in order to be able to watch Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, and although there are still Netflix projects that interest me, the removal of the Star Trek franchise from the platform was a big factor in choosing to cancel that subscription.
Right now I have two subscriptions that I pay for: Xbox Game Pass and Disney+. In order to be able to afford Paramount+, realistically I’d have to cancel one or the other. And the problem there is simple: I regularly use and enjoy both. Subscribing to Game Pass has meant that I’ve only had to buy one game since the start of the year (Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, in case you were wondering). It’s a good service – for now, at least – that offers a decent number of games, and although I don’t spend as much time gaming as I did say a decade ago, Game Pass still has a lot to offer.
Disney+ has a few new shows that I’m interested in, like the current Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but more than that it’s a service that carries a lot of shows that I’ve enjoyed in years past. The likes of Futurama or Scubs make great background viewing; light entertainment that I don’t need to think too deeply about. Kids’ cartoon Phineas and Ferb is one of my comfort shows that I turn to on days when my mental health is poor, and Disney+ even carries shows like Lost and a diverse array of documentaries and films.
I feel like the debate I’m currently having internally about streaming kind of encapsulates a broader issue with the oversaturated streaming market, but more significantly for Paramount Global and the Star Trek franchise, it shows how being too late to the party can be incredibly costly. I’m not trying to decide between Paramount+ and Disney+ in a vacuum with both services on an equal footing; I already have Disney+, so in order to be able to afford Paramount+, Paramount needs to convince me to give up what I already have.
Perhaps the cost of living crisis of 2022 has blown the lid off things – it certainly has for me, at least – but these kinds of conflicts were inevitable, and not every streaming service currently on the market can survive. Perhaps current events will accelerate the decline of some of the lesser ones – such as CNN+, which cost parent company Time Warner over $300 million and lasted barely one month – but with the market having become so crowded and so anti-consumer, there simply isn’t room for everyone.
I’ve argued this point before – in an article that you can find by clicking or tapping here – but I really think it makes a lot of sense for some of the lesser companies to get out of the streaming game and focus instead on making content, not trying to make their own platform. The Star Trek franchise could be a good example of how this could work; Discovery was sold to Netflix, but Picard and Lower Decks were sold to Amazon Prime Video. Other media companies could take a similar approach, selling their shows and films to the highest-bidding streaming platform without making a cast-iron commitment to always work exclusively with a single platform.
That has to be the future, doesn’t it? It isn’t affordable for most households to pay for four, five, or six different streaming subscriptions even at the best of times, so something’s got to give sooner or later. As inflation and the cost of living continue to bite around the world – and with no sign of things improving at least in the short-term – I’d expect similar conversations to be happening in a lot of households. It’s possible that we’ll even start to see the impact of this on the streaming market pretty soon.
I’ve written about piracy here on the website on more than one occasion. Although it can be hard to explain how I feel in just a few words, I’ll give it a shot: when a series, film, or video game is made available, I’m firmly in the camp that says “pay for it.” If everyone turned to piracy there’d be no future for entertainment; it wouldn’t be possible to keep creating new films, games, or shows if no one was paying for and supporting the creation of those projects. So with Paramount+ slowly stumbling its way towards its UK launch, almost by default I felt sure that I’d be signing up.
As a big Trekkie and someone who loves the Star Trek franchise, I want to be in a position of contributing to its success, even when Paramount Global as a corporation has misbehaved when it comes to international fans. The reason for that is pretty simple: I want Star Trek to be financially successful so that it’ll continue to be produced for many years to come. I don’t want to be a pirate, especially not when it comes to Star Trek. The fact that Paramount forced fans like me into piracy with their decisions over Discovery Season 4, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds remains a source of disappointment.
But now, with the cost of living and inflation biting me in the backside, I’m left wondering whether my best option in the short-term is to rely on my DVDs and Blu-rays for older shows and pirate the final few episodes of Strange New Worlds. By the time Paramount+ lands in the UK there will only be three weeks left in the first season of Strange New Worlds – and even if Prodigy or Lower Decks are going to be hot on its heels, it hardly seems worth signing up for a new subscription to get three episodes of a single series.
Perhaps I’m clutching at straws trying to justify accessing media that I can’t afford. Maybe it’s the curse of those of us on low and fixed incomes that, in a world of dozens of streaming subscriptions, it’s too expensive to be able to afford to watch everything. Do the cost of living crisis and inflation justify piracy? Is piracy, as some like to claim, a form of theft? If I can’t afford Paramount+, shouldn’t I find ways to cut other things out of my budget so that I can – and if I’m unable or unwilling to do that, shouldn’t I then stick to that commitment and stop watching these new Star Trek shows?
These are some of the questions rolling around in my head at the moment! Maybe I should just shut up, review new episodes of Star Trek and whatever else, and let everyone reading assume that I paid for everything completely legitimately. But this website is my only real outlet for talking about some of these issues, and with the cost of living and inflation being big worries at the moment and weighing on my mind, I wanted to talk about it and not just cover it up and pretend like everything is fine.
This is far from the worst financial crisis I’ve personally had to deal with. Ever been so broke that you had “sleep for dinner?” I’ve been there. I’ve been to the supermarket with only a bunch of coins that I managed to scrounge up from pockets and down the back of the sofa, buying food for a couple of days without knowing when or how I’d be able to afford the next shop. And I’ve been in a position of turning off the heat and wearing a coat, gloves, and three pairs of socks in the living room in order to save money. Compared to that – and compared to what many folks are going through right now, too – having to choose between different streaming services because I can’t afford all of them… well it doesn’t exactly matter, does it?
But at the same time, there is a broader point here. Paramount+ is about to launch in an incredibly difficult market, one in which some of the biggest fans of the corporation’s most popular franchises are going to struggle to afford the service. The longer-term prospects of Paramount+, and whether it will ever be able to break into the top tier of streaming platforms alongside Netflix and Disney+, remains very much in question – and with that question comes fears for the longer-term sustainability of Star Trek. As a fan, that concerns me.
Decisions going back a decade or more on the part of big entertainment corporations have led to this point, and while the current jump in inflation and rise in the cost of living may have exposed some of these issues of affordability sooner than expected, it was inevitable that we’d reach this point in such an oversaturated marketplace. As a Star Trek fan I want to support Star Trek and I want the company that owns it and the platform on which it’s available to be financially successful – but I can’t commit to backing Paramount+ with a long-term subscription at the moment. If the cost of living crisis worsens in the months ahead – and with energy bills set to rise significantly in October, just in time for the winter, it very well may – I’ll be needing to cut back even more on the few services I already pay for, and there’ll be absolutely no place for anything new.
It’s a tough market, and Paramount Global’s many mistakes and offensive decisions have not endeared the corporation or its latest venture to the people who should be its biggest supporters. I wish Paramount+ well as a Star Trek fan who wants the franchise to succeed… but I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to make a long-term commitment to it right now.
Paramount+ is available in the United States, Scandinavia, Australia, and parts of Latin America now, with launches in the UK and South Korea in June 2022. Further international launch dates are yet to be announced. Paramount+ and the Star Trek franchise are owned by Paramount Global. Some stock images used above are courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.