In the course of researching Star Trek: Prodigy for my review of the first part of Season 1, I learned something very odd. The first half of the season was itself cleaved in two, with a few episodes being broadcast, followed by a month-long break, before a second batch were broadcast leading up to the mid-season finale. This appalling scheduling – and on a streaming platform, no less – already made no sense and arguably damaged Prodigy, making it harder for the series to gain traction and retain viewers, and that’s something I addressed in my review. But one thing that’s even worse is that for Paramount+ subscribers outside of the United States – such as in Australia – the second batch of episodes weren’t broadcast at all.
When ViacomCBS announced its intention to take Discovery Season 4 away from fans, the same thing happened. Although Paramount+ existed in Latin America, Australia, and Scandinavia, those regions weren’t going to get Discovery Season 4 at the same time as the American version of Paramount+, effectively meaning that Trekkies in those regions had paid for nothing.
We’ve talked on several occasions about ViacomCBS prioritising American Trekkies and viewers over those of us in the rest of the world, but I had hoped that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally would finally bring an end to this disgusting, outdated attitude. Although the pace of the streaming service’s rollout would make a snail covered in molasses riding a sloth up a glacier look fast by comparison, I’m still halfway hopeful that it’ll arrive here in the UK before the end of 2022 – and if I dare to dream, I’d hope that Paramount+ will be available worldwide… one day.
But even if ViacomCBS magically finds competent leadership in the months ahead, meaning Paramount+ will indeed be available here in the UK in time for, say, the debut of Strange New Worlds, it now seems as though the corporation can’t offer fans a guarantee that subscribing to Paramount+ will actually mean we’ll be able to watch any new Star Trek. So… what’s the point of Paramount+, then, and why should I bother subscribing at all?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that there are some big questions that ViacomCBS and the team behind Paramount+ need to answer as soon as possible regarding the availability of upcoming Star Trek productions. But we can add into the mix the very real and very serious question of whether any non-American Paramount+ subscribers will be able to watch any new or upcoming Star Trek shows at the same time as viewers in the United States. And then we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we can trust the answer given the corporation’s poor track record going back several years at least.
Last year, when Paramount+ debuted in the United States and began its painfully slow international rollout, I was optimistic and even dare I say looking forward to the streaming platform’s arrival here in the UK. Being able to subscribe to Star Trek’s home, its native platform, felt like a good opportunity, and as I’ve said on several occasions: I want to offer ViacomCBS and the Star Trek franchise my support and financial backing in whatever way I can.
But now, having seen just how poorly ViacomCBS has been treating Paramount+ subscribers outside of the United States, the idea of signing up for Paramount+ when it eventually arrives in the UK is getting harder and harder to justify. That’s before we get into the technical issues that plague the platform: in just the last couple of weeks there was an episode of Prodigy that wasn’t available, error messages about servers being “too busy” that seem to be trying to force subscribers to pay for even more expensive packages, and myriad other glitches and screw-ups that leave Paramount+ in the United States feeling like a poor quality product.
Given that viewers in the United States are ViacomCBS’ priority – which they clearly and demonstrably have been thus far – that hardly leaves me feeling optimistic about the kind of service I can expect if and when Paramount+ makes its way across the Atlantic. If Paramount+ were to repeat the Prodigy mistake or their initial Discovery Season 4 plans with Strange New Worlds, for example, then why should I – or any other Trekkie, come to that – bother to sign up? It brings us right back to the arguments about piracy: if ViacomCBS offers fans no lawful way to access their new shows, then piracy becomes the default option.
Paramount+ does not exist in a vacuum. The choice fans are presented with is not “pay for Paramount+ or don’t watch anything.” Piracy exists, and with a minimal amount of effort it’s possible for anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer to watch or download every new episode of Star Trek. To compete against that successfully, Paramount+ has to do what Netflix, Disney+, and others have done: the platform has to be a compelling, inexpensive alternative.
That means it needs to work, first and foremost. If fans log in and try to watch the latest episode but find that it won’t play or, as happened with Prodigy Season 1, Episode 9, it just isn’t there at all, then the entire argument behind paying to subscribe falls down. And if fans in the rest of the world can’t access something that fans in America can, how on earth does ViacomCBS expect to convince anyone that a Paramount+ subscription is a worthwhile investment?
We’re facing inflation and a significant rise in the cost of living. Speaking for myself, as someone on a fixed income, I’m already considering that it may not be possible to keep all of my current subscriptions, let alone add a new one into the mix. In order to overcome that, or to make sure folks are willing to consider Paramount+ a must-have subscription that they can’t live without, ViacomCBS has to demonstrate that the service is a solid investment. That means basic competence to begin with – fixing technical issues, ensuring that the service works properly, and that it has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. But from the point of view of someone outside of the United States, it means ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need a major attitude adjustment. The corporation and its streaming platform need to demonstrate to Trekkies – and to viewers of all of their other programmes – that they aren’t just fixated on America; that those of us in the rest of the world matter to them too. If they can’t, I see no reason whatsoever why we should offer them our money.
This is an own goal; a self-inflicted wound from Paramount+ that the streaming service absolutely does not need to make. Take a look at the competition: Disney+ doesn’t gate off shows like The Mandalorian or films like Encanto – once they’re on Disney+ they’re on Disney+ for everyone, and while Disney+ has had its own international rollout issues, the service is streets ahead of Paramount+. Paramount+ has existed in its current form for almost a year – and going back to CBS All Access, for almost five years. There has been time for ViacomCBS to learn how to act and how to get this right – but they have consistently failed to do so.
There’s no question in my mind that ViacomCBS is mismanaging Paramount+ in a serious, potentially fatal way. For a second-tier platform like this to survive the “streaming wars” it has to make an offer that viewers simply can’t refuse. It has to compete not only against the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also against the option of piracy, and it has to convince folks like me that I’ll actually get a decent service if I part with my money. So far, I don’t see Paramount+ as a compelling investment as someone living outside of the United States. And even if I were in America, given the other issues and faults with Paramount+ the best I can say is that it might be a service I pay for one month out of twelve to binge-watch a few shows before cancelling.
In short, bringing Paramount+ to the UK – and to countries and territories around the world – will only matter if the service brings with it all of the new and upcoming shows that American viewers can look forward to. If it doesn’t, or if those shows are going to be delayed by many months, then fans are pretty quickly going to see Paramount+ as a bad offer. If the corporation allows that mindset to take hold, it will be very difficult to change the narrative later on, so they need to get this right from day one. Paramount+ needs to bolt out of the gate with a strong, good value offer that can compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. That means the current “America First” attitude of the ViacomCBS board has got to go.
Paramount+ is owned and operated by ViacomCBS and is available in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.