Star Trek: Lower Decks makes its international debut… finally!

Don’t worry, there won’t be any major spoilers here if you haven’t seen Lower Decks. If you’re a Trekkie and you managed to resist the temptation to watch Lower Decks by “unconventional means” then I commend you. After five long months, Lower Decks is finally available to an international audience via Amazon Prime Video – sharing the platform with Star Trek: Picard.

If you haven’t yet seen Star Trek’s second animated series, I really think you’re in for a treat! It’s funny and clever, and while there were some teething problems, especially in the first couple of episodes, I had a great time with the show overall. As an out-and-out comedy it’s certainly different from Star Trek’s past offerings, but if you believe that the franchise has never had a sense of humour then I think you’ve missed something significant!

Ensigns Boimler and Mariner.

The Original Series derived a lot of humour from the interactions between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular, and the franchise’s sci-fi setting has led to some weird and very funny moments. I think I’ve laughed out loud watching every Star Trek series to date. Lower Decks turns that up to eleven, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like animated comedy shows like Rick and Morty then perhaps the style of humour will be less enjoyable.

But even if you aren’t laughing out loud at every wacky situation that the ensigns find themselves subjected to, underneath the comedy is still a Star Trek show, and one that has heart. I would encourage fans who didn’t like Discovery or Picard to give Lower Decks a shot, because in many ways its closer to 1990s Star Trek than either of its two live-action cousins.

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford.

Lower Decks is largely episodic, it brings back the classic design of Star Trek ships from that era as well as bringing back classic designs of aliens like the Klingons – the Klingon redesign was a point of contention when Discovery premiered. So from the point of view of someone who loved Star Trek in the 1990s, Lower Decks goes out of its way to use that aesthetic and style.

Despite the focus on the four ensigns, the bridge crew and senior staff of the USS Cerritos get screen time and development as well, and while not every episode will feel like classic Star Trek, some genuinely do.

When I watched the first season, I said several times that it’s important to have the right expectation when sitting down to Lower Decks. It’s an animated comedy first, and a Star Trek show second. If you go into it expecting The Next Generation with a few extra jokes you will be disappointed; Lower Decks puts its humour front-and-centre.

Commander Ransom and Captain Freeman.

A sense of humour is a very personal thing, and jokes are subject to individual taste. If the likes of Rick and Morty, Disenchanted, and even Family Guy are shows you like, I daresay the style of comedy in Lower Decks will be perfect for you. If you find those shows insufferable, however, it may be a more difficult watch – at least at some points.

Though not every joke landed, and some were actually dire, in my opinion the humour was more hit than miss, and there were some truly hilarious moments where I had to rewind the episode because I was laughing so hard. The humour generally doesn’t feel random; Lower Decks draws on the history, legacy, and mythos of Star Trek for many of its gags, which was wonderful.

Dr T’Ana.

Discovery was often criticised early in its run for feeling as though it was made by people who were not Trekkies. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think it stems from the fact that the producers and writers were taking the franchise to new places. But regardless, that accusation simply cannot be levelled at Lower Decks. Almost every second of the season oozes Star Trek, and the characters, settings, storylines, and comedy are all drawn directly from the Star Trek shows of the 1990s.

There are also some genuinely inspiring and emotional moments in Lower Decks, with great scenes and characters inspired by past iterations of the franchise. In some ways, Lower Decks satirises or parodies Star Trek, but it always does so in a loving way. None of the jokes in Lower Decks felt like they were laughing at Star Trek – they were using the franchise as inspiration and making the goings-on in Starfleet fun, but never attacking the franchise nor being mean-spirited about it.

The USS Cerritos.

One thing I’m still hopeful for with Lower Decks is the expansion of the fanbase. An animated comedy in the vein of Rick and Morty has the potential to appeal to viewers who would not ordinarily seek out Star Trek, and while the splitting up of the broadcast did kill a significant amount of hype for the series, there is still the possibility to bring in new fans. Some of those people who are about to sit down to their first ever Star Trek show will go on to watch Discovery and Picard, as well as The Next Generation and The Original Series, and will become Trekkies. Lower Decks will, for some folks, be their first contact with the franchise, and I think that’s wonderful.

It took Rick and Morty three seasons to really go mainstream, so even though Lower Decks didn’t exactly catch fire during Season 1, with a second season already in production, and now having found an international home, I believe the show is in a good place, well-suited to expand beyond Star Trek’s typical sci-fi niche and bring in new fans.

Season 1 was a fun ride, and I’m already eagerly awaiting Season 2. I will certainly give it a re-watch on Amazon Prime Video now that it’s available – and I daresay I’ll have a great time all over again!

On my dedicated Star Trek: Lower Decks page you can find individual episode reviews for all ten of Season 1’s episodes. All ten episodes are available now on Amazon Prime Video, having followed Netflix’s lead and dumped them all at once! So if you haven’t seen Lower Decks yet, give it a shot. Maybe it won’t be your cup of tea – but maybe it will.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available now on Amazon Prime Video around the world, and on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.

23 weeks of Star Trek comes to an end…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and other iterations of the franchise.

Almost half a year ago (26 weeks would be a half-year) we sat down to watch Second Contact, the premiere episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. This episode kicked off something ViacomCBS billed as “23 weeks of Star Trek” – ten weeks of Lower Decks followed immediately by thirteen weeks of Discovery. Now that we’ve had Discovery’s season finale, I thought it would be fun to look back on the past five-ish months and see how it went.

2020 was the first year since 2004 that saw more than twenty Star Trek episodes premiere, and with three different productions on the go for the first time since the 1990s it’s really beginning to feel that Star Trek is back! Assuming all of the currently-announced series and projects make it to screen, we’ll be seeing the franchise continue through at least the first half of the 2020s, hopefully even until the 60th anniversary in 2026. There have been bumps in the road – and more seem likely – but overall the franchise seems to be in a good place as these 23 weeks come to an end.

Burnham and Book in the third season premiere of Discovery.

Lower Decks did suffer because of the stupid decision to broadcast it in the United States months ahead of anywhere else. Of all the Star Trek projects we’ve seen announced in recent years, Lower Decks had the greatest potential to expand the fanbase. The entire purpose behind creating a show of this kind is to take Star Trek to new audiences, and that required a unified broadcast so fans everywhere could enjoy it and get hyped for it.

The sad consequence of Lower Decks being split up and shown to some fans but not others is that the buzz around the show died down in the weeks leading up to its broadcast. Many potential viewers tuned out or never even became aware of its existence, and we’ll simply never know how big it could’ve become were it not for that godawful decision. Could we be talking about Lower Decks hitting the mainstream like Rick and Morty? It’s good enough on its own merit, but we’ll never know now.

Ensign Mariner from Lower Decks.

When it was decided to press ahead with this 23 weeks of Star Trek, the team at ViacomCBS clearly knew that the pandemic had massively set back other projects in the franchise. Whereas we might’ve hoped to see Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Prodigy Season 1, and maybe the Section 31 show or even Strange New Worlds in 2021, as things sit right now, no announcements have been made regarding any releases this year. Understandably so, of course, but to me it just compounds the stupidness of the Lower Decks decision.

Since we now know that Lower Decks will be broadcast internationally later this month, I’m left wondering why it was pushed out in North America first. We could have all enjoyed it together, and it would have filled a hole in the schedule in the first part of 2021. But that’s not the way it happened, and re-litigating the issue over and over accomplishes nothing! Instead, let’s look at some of the high points from these past 23 weeks. There have been quite a lot!

The USS Discovery crash-lands in Far From Home.

First up, Lower Decks itself. Despite a rocky start, by midway through the second episode the series was beginning to find its feet, and as the season went on it became a thoroughly enjoyable watch with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. There were a ton of references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek, including The Next Generation era. Until Picard premiered earlier in 2020 the franchise had been looking backwards at reboots and prequels for almost twenty years, leaving little room to even name-drop something from The Next Generation onwards.

Discovery included fewer elements from The Next Generation’s era than I’d have liked to see. Partly that’s a consequence of shooting forward in time centuries beyond that time period, and partly it’s a creative choice. There were a couple of references though, like bringing back the Trill and introducing a new USS Voyager. I was especially pleased that the Qowat Milat – a Romulan faction introduced in Star Trek: Picard – also cropped up in Discovery.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham was a member of the Qowat Milat.

Bringing together the shows currently in production is something I hope to see more of going forward! I had theorised before we knew too much about Discovery’s third season that – due to time travel shenanigans – it could have been set at the dawn of the 25th Century along with Picard, but ultimately that didn’t happen. It would’ve been cool, though!

Lower Decks and Discovery didn’t really connect in any significant way during these 23 weeks. The most significant thing I noticed which came close to tying the two series together was that in both of their season premieres, a main character gets chewed on by an alien monster! In Second Contact it happened to Ensign Boimler, and in That Hope Is You, Part 1 it happened to Burnham. Maybe that was a conscious choice – but I suspect it may be little more than coincidence.

Boimler got chewed on by a monster…
…and so did Michael Burnham.

Both Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery represent a franchise stepping out of its comfort zone and trying to do something different. In Lower Decks’ case we see Star Trek trying a different genre – comedy. The particular style of comedy chosen may not be to everyone’s taste, but I would argue that fans of shows like Rick and Morty or The Orville would have found something to enjoy. Discovery took Star Trek away from the familiar ground of the 23rd and 24th Centuries in a major way for really the first time. We’d seen individual episodes or parts of episodes set in the far future before, but never a whole season.

Both shows felt like they were made with Star Trek fans firmly in mind. That may seem obvious, but we have to remember that hardcore fans are a small percentage of any franchise’s audience. Lower Decks in particular was a series that was largely episodic and that relied at key moments on references to somewhat obscure events in Star Trek’s wider canon, both for its comedy and for narrative beats. That was a bold move, and one which could have backfired.

The arrival of the USS Titan.

Discovery didn’t take an episodic approach, but there are more episodes in its third season which act as standalone stories than there were in Seasons 1 and 2 combined. The writers and producers have clearly tried to blend season-long storylines with shorter episodic stories, and while we can debate which episodes were the best and the worst, taken as a whole the season was definitely better for the inclusion of some of these smaller stories.

Though we won’t know for sure until the new show hits our screens, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is supposedly going to take a similar approach: keeping the season-long arcs while at the same time flying the ship and crew to different adventures every week. Discovery Season 3 provides a good foundation to build on in that regard – provided the writers and producers pay attention to what worked and what didn’t!

Saru in command of the USS Discovery.

Though I plan to do a proper look back at both Season 1 of Lower Decks and Season 3 of Discovery in the weeks ahead, looking back at this 23 weeks of Star Trek I can already say that I had a great time. There were some stumbles and some storylines and episodes that didn’t work for a few different reasons, but the quality of both shows was generally high. I can’t fault the visual effects, the acting, the direction, the editing, the post-production work, or anything behind-the-scenes when considering the bigger picture. Narrative will always be something subjective, but I would encourage anyone to give both shows a try and to stick with them beyond the first couple of episodes.

The only thing I’d say is that, having set up this promotion between the two shows, it’s a little odd that there were essentially no references or crossovers between them. Because of the decision to send Discovery into the future, there was the possibility for Lower Decks to reference something from Discovery’s first two seasons, and for Discovery to reference something from Lower Decks’ first season. Maybe that’s something that can happen at some point in the future.

There will be more Lower Decks to come!

Though we don’t have access to viewing figures – something which, unfortunately, leads to a lot of speculation and misinformation floating around online – I hope that both shows did well. On merit I’d happily recommend both to any Star Trek fan, and to any fan of either animated comedies or action-sci fi. The upcoming rebranding of CBS All Access as Paramount+ may bring in more new viewers to both shows, and Lower Decks’ international broadcast later this month will hopefully attract some attention too.

As I said at the beginning, Star Trek feels like it’s in a good place. There are projects in the pipeline that should see the franchise grow and build on what both Discovery and Lower Decks have done over the last 23 weeks, and it’s my hope that it will remain viable and stay on our screens for many years to come. I have the same sort of feeling that I had in the mid-1990s when Deep Space Nine and Voyager had picked up the baton from The Next Generation; there’s a lot going on, and all of it is different or at least not afraid to try new things.

I will miss my Friday appointment with Discovery now that the third season has concluded. However, as I look ahead to the rest of 2021, I’m hopeful that we may see Prodigy and Lower Decks Season 2 even if we have to wait until 2022 for more live-action Star Trek! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, as I’ll break down any news that comes our way regarding upcoming Star Trek projects as well as look back at some of the stories and themes that we saw over these 23 weeks. It really is a great time to be a Star Trek fan right now – or a fan of sci-fi and fantasy in general. I truly hope that you enjoyed the last 23 weeks as much as I did.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on the 22nd of January in the rest of the world. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks, Discovery, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is finally getting an international broadcast

Five months too late.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, which was broadcast in the United States beginning in August, is finally getting an international release. The show will share Star Trek: Picard’s home on Amazon Prime Video from the 22nd of January – with all ten episodes being made available simultaneously on that date.

It’s anybody’s guess why this couldn’t have happened in the summer, but it is a positive step that Lower Decks has found an international home ahead of Season 2’s premiere – which may come in late 2021 or 2022. Amazon Prime Video has netted a great show and a wonderful addition to its lineup. Hopefully fans of Star Trek: Picard will at least try to give Star Trek: Lower Decks a look-in, and if they stick with it what they’ll find is an enjoyable animated comedy series that pays homage to The Next Generation era of the franchise.

Ensign Mariner.

But this whole situation has been an own goal from ViacomCBS. They seriously let down Star Trek’s huge international fanbase by deliberately choosing to broadcast Lower Decks in North America only. The damage that decision has caused will take time to abate, and I don’t blame anyone who chooses to skip Lower Decks Season 1 – or who watched it already by “other means.”

Given that ViacomCBS was clearly in negotiations with Amazon – and perhaps other broadcasters or streaming services too – why couldn’t they have just waited?! All the hurt and anger in the fanbase for the sake of broadcasting the series five months early? What’s five months in the grand scheme of things? Nothing. And if CBS All Access is in such a shaky financial position that they needed the boost from Lower Decks… well that does not bode well for the overall future of the franchise.

Ensign Boimler.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Lower Decks is getting an international broadcast. I just don’t understand the corporate decision-making that meant we couldn’t have shared the series with our American friends in the fanbase. With coronavirus causing major disruption to Star Trek’s production schedules, there’s currently nothing on the cards for 2021 after Discovery Season 3 wraps up in the first week of January. Lower Decks Season 1 could have filled that gap for all of us, and we’d still have had more Star Trek on our screens in 2020 that we’d had in fifteen years.

It will be strange to go from 2020, with three Star Trek productions, to 2021 which looks likely to have nothing until the autumn at the earliest. Lower Decks Season 1 could have been something all Star Trek fans shared together; weeks of shared geeking out and humour to take the edge off the end of a phenomenally crappy year for many people. Instead it became another source of division in an already-fractured fanbase, and there’s just no reason I can see why that needed to happen.

Ensign Tendi.

The only upside – aside from Lower Decks being legitimately available to fans now – is that the anti-Star Trek social media groups, who have for months proclaimed that “no one wants to buy Lower Decks because it’s crap,” can now shut up! Lower Decks was a moderate success. It didn’t light the world on fire in the way some animated comedies have, but it brought in viewers. Some Trekkies who had skipped Discovery and even Picard showed up for Lower Decks, and I’m sure some fans of animated comedy gave the franchise a try for the first time.

Again, though, we come back to the broadcast being split up. Even if we very generously assume that a full half of Star Trek: Lower Decks’ potential audience is in North America, that means that when no international broadcast announcement was forthcoming, 50% of the hype and interest in Lower Decks vanished. And we see this in the reaction to the show online.

Ensign Rutherford.

Hype is a funny thing. By killing half of it – or more – when the decision to only broadcast Lower Decks in North America became obvious, there’s no telling how many potential viewers the show lost. If everyone had been on board for the series at the same time its premiere would have been much bigger, and the buzz it generated would have reached far further. Thus we can argue that ViacomCBS didn’t just lose 50% of Lower Decks’ audience by segregating its release by geography, but an untold number. The show was so good that it could have easily achieved the same viewership as some of the better animated comedies in recent years – Disenchanted, Final Space, even Rick and Morty. If we’re judging the series on merit, it easily matches any of these.

But we can’t simply judge Lower Decks on merit. Its broadcast was split up, and every conversation around the show since has at least acknowledged that fact. The final episode of the season even brought in a major starship and two major characters that could be considered a significant spoiler for Trekkies, and it isn’t easy to avoid spoilers in online fan communities. Some fans who chose not to pirate the show will have had it spoiled for them, and while arguably the spoilers in Lower Decks aren’t as egregious as the likes of Baby Yoda had been in The Mandalorian when that show’s release was similarly split up, those spoilers still have an effect on fans.

The USS Cerritos at warp.

So that’s that. Five months too late, Lower Decks will be available to Star Trek fans in much of the rest of the world. Some territories and jurisdictions may still have to wait; Amazon’s announcement mentioned Europe, the UK, India, Australia, and “others.” But a lot of fans who had missed out will finally be able to watch.

If you missed Lower Decks when it was new because it wasn’t available to you, let me give you my spoiler-free thoughts. The first episode is okay, but not especially strong. Episode 2 contains perhaps the worst moment of the series; I came seriously close to switching off and not returning, that’s how strongly I felt. But if you stick with it, the first season ends up being solid. There are plenty of callbacks and references to past iterations of the franchise, and some genuinely funny jokes and storylines that, at points, had me in stitches. If you’re a Star Trek fan, a fan of animated comedies, or both, it’s well worth a look.

When it debuts here in the UK I’m planning to re-watch the series – if for no other reason than to boost its ratings on Amazon! And in just over a month, you can finally see what all the fuss is about.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is coming to Amazon Prime Video in the UK, Europe, India, Australia, and selected other territories on the 22nd of January 2021. The series is already available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States. Star Trek: Lower Decks – and the entire Star Trek franchise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks and the ethics of piracy

No, not piracy on the high seas. We’re going to take a look at copyright infringement, and this is a contentious topic so let’s be clear up front: in practically every jurisdiction around the world, piracy is illegal. I am categorically not encouraging it nor am I condoning it. This column aims to be an honest discussion on the moral and ethical implications only, not the legal ramifications.

The journey to writing this column began in July, when Star Trek: Lower Decks was announced. The announcement came with a US/Canada premiere date and weekly release schedule, but nothing for the rest of the world. Trekkies like myself who aren’t from North America held our breath and waited. More information about the show came out, but no international release date. Then a trailer was published, but again no international release date. Star Trek’s Comic-Con panel approached, and I considered this the last reasonable chance for news of an international broadcast. But again, fans were let down.

Lower Decks premiered on the 6th of August, but only for North American viewers. ViacomCBS not only chose not to broadcast the series internationally, they haven’t made any public statement on the issue. And don’t get this twisted around saying it isn’t the company’s fault because of coronavirus or some other issue; they are in full control over when to broadcast the series in the United States, and if they couldn’t secure the international broadcast rights for whatever reason before the 6th of August, it was entirely within their power to delay the series until they had come to an agreement with an international distributor or broadcaster. It was thus ViacomCBS’ decision – and their decision alone – for Lower Decks to be split up and shown to some fans but not others. And it is undeniably their decision not to address the problem in public.

In such an environment, is it any surprise that Trekkies outside the US and Canada turned to piracy to access the series? If it’s literally unavailable any other way, and there is radio silence on when it may become available, what choice to fans have? The answer is that there is no choice, and ViacomCBS made it that way. They practically invited piracy of Lower Decks not once but twice: first through the utterly moronic decision to segregate the show by geography, and secondly by not even giving lip service to the problem. Look at any social media post from official Star Trek pages in July and early August – each one received many comments asking about Lower Decks’ international broadcast, and every single one was ignored.

We can set aside my usual arguments about how this harms ViacomCBS’ own negotiating position – assuming they still plan to sell the show internationally – because that’s something I’ve covered repeatedly and it isn’t what this column is about. Purely from a moral and ethical standpoint, is it wrong to pirate Lower Decks?

When a television series, film, or video game is made available to the general public, I think most people would say that piracy is not acceptable. Most of us agree that the actors and behind-the-scenes staff deserve to be paid for their work, and the investors in the company who bankrolled the project deserve to see a return on their investment. We can talk at length about how some large media corporations make excessive profits for a select few shareholders and managers, but as a general rule, most people agree with the principle of paying entertainers for the entertainment they provide.

This is the reality of how entertainment works. Companies producing a television series, video game, or film need to raise money to create their project and see it to fruition, and somehow they need to recoup that money as well as make a profit to fund their next title. Nowadays there are myriad ways to do this, including streaming platforms online. If everybody engaged in piracy, it would be very hard for any company to make any new work of entertainment, because they would have no way of making their money back.

So when a work of entertainment is made available, most people stick to doing one of two things – pay to enjoy it, or don’t participate.

But that argument is only valid in cases where content is available via lawful methods. Lower Decks, as we’ve already established, is only in that category if you’re lucky enough to live in the United States or Canada; the two countries combined are home to less than 5% of the world’s population. So if 95% of the population are denied access to something, what options do they have? Wait an indeterminate and possibly unlimited amount of time? It’s been over a month since Lower Decks debuted and in that time ViacomCBS has said precisely nothing. How long are we supposed to sit on our hands?

In the case of another recent series that made this mistake, waiting became incredibly problematic. We could argue from the point of view of “hardcore” Trekkies that nothing in Lower Decks has been a massive spoiler. There isn’t one character or one moment to point to – at least, in the first six episodes – which if it had been spoiled ahead of time would have majorly ruined our enjoyment. But in some shows that isn’t the case. Disney+ launched in the United States months ahead of the rest of the world, and one of its big draws was the first ever live-action Star Wars series: The Mandalorian. The end of the first episode contained perhaps the biggest twist in the entire first season: the Mandalorian’s target is a child, nicknamed “baby Yoda” by the internet.

Baby Yoda was everywhere in November and December last year. Screenshots and clips were all over the internet, and baby Yoda was in so many memes! Friends and family members of mine who don’t know the first thing about Star Wars had seen baby Yoda – so imagine being a Star Wars fan, unable to watch The Mandalorian simply because of where you live, having that massive reveal and the emotional core of the series spoiled months before you could see it.

Before the dawn of the internet it wouldn’t have mattered. In the 1990s, when I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and the other shows of that era, the fact that we in the UK were getting them a couple of years after their American premiere wasn’t something I ever noticed. Even within Star Trek fan clubs and at Star Trek fan events in the ’90s, there were no spoilers. And yes, I went to numerous such meet-ups and events at the time.

But in 2020, companies can’t get away with that any more. Not because of the tiny minority of people who take a kind of twisted pleasure in deliberately spoiling something for others, but because social media and the internet in general becomes awash with spoilers. If you follow Star Trek’s official social media, as I do, you’ll have picked up numerous spoilers for Lower Decks, as their social media channels throw out plot points, lists of Easter eggs, and all manner of other things almost daily. And that’s not to mention fan-run pages and groups. In short, if you’re a fan of anything in 2020, chances are that, in some way, you go online to engage in that fandom, and that’s a breeding ground for spoilers.

In the case of The Mandalorian, baby Yoda hit the mainstream such that even the most careful fan wouldn’t have been able to avoid seeing or hearing about it. And when you’ve been burned by spoilers once or twice, it’s very easy to get upset and annoyed – and to turn to piracy.

When it comes to shows like The Mandalorian and Star Trek: Lower Decks, I think what I’d say is that piracy may still be legally wrong, but it’s much harder to claim that it’s morally wrong. We live in an interconnected, globalised world, where the internet means people from everywhere can be connected to each other and to the franchises they love at all times. Companies like ViacomCBS have actively encouraged this kind of globalism because it means a bigger market and more profit. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that extends beyond national borders. In the global, interconnected world that these massive corporations have encouraged, the least they could do is make their content available. ViacomCBS has been keen to promote Star Trek as a brand outside the United States, even setting up events in Europe like Destination Star Trek where actors and producers routinely draw huge crowds.

The franchise, at ViacomCBS’ behest, has become a global brand. There are Star Trek fans from the Falkland Islands to Timbuktu, all because the company has chosen to sell Star Trek and its merchandise to every country it can. But it seems that ViacomCBS only cares about its international audience for as much money as it can wring out of us, because as soon as there’s a tiny bump in the road they’re quite happy to cut us off and not share their most recent creation.

Star Trek doesn’t belong to Americans. It depicts a future where humanity is working together to learn and grow together to build a better world, something which seems the complete antithesis of a major American corporation cutting off its overseas fans with no information thrown our way.

With ViacomCBS being so disrespectful to its international audience, is it any wonder that Lower Decks has become one of the most-pirated shows of the last few weeks? I don’t think it should be a surprise to anyone, because when there is no other way to access the series, piracy – by definition – becomes the only option. Anyone with a computer and even the tiniest inclination can find out how to download or stream Lower Decks, and when you consider that for 95% of the people around the world – including many Trekkies and casual fans of the franchise – it can’t be lawfully accessed, from a moral and philosophical point of view I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.

Piracy is definitely against the law – but in this case, that doesn’t make it wrong.

Downloading and uploading of copyrighted material (“piracy” for the purposes of this discussion) is against the law in practically every jurisdiction around the world. This column should not be interpreted as encouraging piracy or copyright infringement for any television series, film, video game, or entertainment franchise. The Star Trek brand – including Star Trek: Lower Decks – remains the copyright of ViacomCBS. This column contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Okay ViacomCBS, let’s talk “priorities”

Yesterday, Star Trek: Lower Decks had its digital “red carpet” event, officially kicking off the show’s first season. The first episode, Second Contact, will debut tomorrow – but only if you’re lucky enough to live in the United States or Canada.

Having written about this topic previously, and with my excitement for the show building, I wasn’t going to revisit the issue of the show’s international release. However, something I read this morning really pushed my buttons, and it has to do with one single word: “priority”.

I do not in any way blame anyone who worked behind-the-scenes or in the voice cast of Lower Decks for what’s happened. In many ways, the stupid decision to only broadcast the show in North America hurts them too, tainting their work with a moronic business decision. But unfortunately this article was prompted by a comment from Lower Decks’ creator Mike McMahan, who said that it’s “a priority” that fans outside the US and Canada will get to see the series. The full conversation, for context, can be found on TrekCore by following this link (warning: leads to an external website).

So let’s talk priorities.

Lower Decks will be the first Star Trek project since the 1990s to not get a near-simultaneous release in the UK. Even Enterprise managed to do that in 2001, and as I’ve said repeatedly, in 2020 with the internet and online fan communities being such a big deal, companies can no longer get away with splitting up their biggest releases by geography. If ViacomCBS couldn’t get the paperwork for Lower Decks signed in time to guarantee its international broadcast, then the only way the company could demonstrate to its international fans that we’re just as much of a priority would have been to delay the series until everyone could share it and watch it together.

That would have sent a very clear message: Star Trek is for everyone, and ViacomCBS wants everyone to be able to watch it at the same time. It would have been a sensible business decision, generating double the excitement and hype for the show online – the buzz around Lower Decks has been muted at best, and at worst tainted by questions surrounding its international release. Every tweet, every post, every article that they publish online receives dozens of such comments and queries, detracting from the message ViacomCBS wants to put out.

It’s incredibly galling to hear that ViacomCBS considers its international fans to be “a priority” when everything they’ve done regarding Lower Decks’ broadcast categorically demonstrates that it’s not true. Saying they consider us “a priority” is a lie. If they did, Lower Decks would either be coming out for everyone tomorrow, or would have been delayed until it could.

There are clearly very difficult negotiations and discussions going on at high levels of the company trying to secure some kind of overseas broadcast. And I understand that these things are complicated. It’s arguable that, depending on circumstances, the failure to secure international broadcast rights isn’t wholly ViacomCBS’ fault. They can make the case that it’s out of their control; something in the hands of these intransigent international broadcasters. But you know what categorically is within ViacomCBS’ control? The decision to go ahead and broadcast the show in the United States and Canada. Doing so is their decision, and thus choosing to split up the show and not allow its international fans to see it is entirely ViacomCBS’ decision.

And it’s a bad decision. Not just because of the message it sends to Star Trek’s millions of fans who live in the rest of the world, but because the international broadcast will lead to widespread piracy of the new show, undermining ViacomCBS’ own position in the aforementioned negotiations. Not only is the show and its brand now damaged in the eyes of many viewers by not being broadcast at the same time in the rest of the world, but it’s also going to be heavily pirated. Many of Star Trek’s biggest fans won’t wait because they don’t want to miss out. In fact, if there’s no legal and lawful way to access the show, piracy is literally the only option. ViacomCBS, by failing to provide access to the show internationally, is essentially condoning piracy of its own series and undermining any efforts which may be underway to see the show receive an international broadcast.

Even if it were announced now, today, that Lower Decks will receive an international release imminently, the hype and buildup that the show should have received has already been damaged; its brand soiled by the unnecessary delay of any such news coming out. Many fans outside of the US and Canada will have stopped paying attention on the expectation that the series isn’t something they’ll be able to enjoy and wouldn’t even hear any hypothetical announcement.

It’s also not, as some may suggest, wholly the fault of coronavirus. While production and release schedules have doubtless been affected – Lower Decks was originally planned to premiere after Discovery’s third season, for example – I again restate what I said a moment ago: it is still wholly within ViacomCBS’ control when to broadcast the show in the United States. The pandemic may have forced changes, but if the international rights for Lower Decks had not been secured, it is still entirely ViacomCBS’ decision to go ahead and broadcast it to half its fanbase – or less – regardless. Coronavirus and its associated issues is a factor, but that is not the whole story, and to lay the blame there is little more than a distraction from the real heart of the matter – Star Trek fans outside of the United States are not any kind of “priority” to ViacomCBS.

Lower Decks is the most unique Star Trek project in a generation. It’s a crossover with the kind of animated comedy shows that are popular with a far wider audience than Star Trek’s typical niche, and thus it’s a show which had the potential to bring in legions of new fans – including new fans in other parts of the world. But how can that happen with the show segregated by geography? How are those potential new fans supposed to get on board and be excited about a series that they can’t even watch?

At the very least, ViacomCBS owes its international fans transparency. It doesn’t just upset me that Lower Decks isn’t going to be broadcast here, it upsets me that there’s been no word at all from the company. They leave it to Mike McMahan, and it’s not his job. There’s been nothing official at all from anyone higher up involved in the production of Star Trek, just a gaping void and an absence of any news. The briefest of statements would have been adequate – something like “we understand fans are anxious and we want to reassure you that negotiations are ongoing.” They could even provide a tentative estimate, such as Lower Decks receiving an international broadcast “before the end of 2020.” It wouldn’t be good enough, but it would at least be an acknowledgement that fans outside the US and Canada exist.

Far from being “a priority”, ViacomCBS has completely ignored its overseas fans. Not only have they done so by not securing the broadcast rights for the show before premiering it in the United States, but by failing to tell us anything. Star Trek’s official website and social media channels are all gearing up for Lower Decks’ premiere, yet there hasn’t been any acknowledgement of this problem. The social media managers ignore comments and messages asking about the international release date, and we’re left with the inescapable realisation that ViacomCBS simply does not care. Calling that “a priority” when it’s patently nothing of the sort is really just insulting.

I feel sorry for Mike McMahan and the rest of the cast and crew of Lower Decks. This isn’t their fault, yet they’re left picking up the pieces. To McMahan’s credit, he has at least acknowledged that there’s a problem, which ViacomCBS has wholly failed to do. And I appreciate that he at least gives lip service to Star Trek’s international fanbase. This article was prompted by his comment, as I find the use of the word “priority” to be a complete joke, but it isn’t his fault at all; ViacomCBS have put him in an awkward position through their own ineptitude and lack of care.

The launch of Lower Decks should be a moment where Star Trek fans from all over the world could come together and celebrate a new addition to the franchise we all love. Instead, it’s ruined by ViacomCBS choosing to prioritise one group of fans over another. They have deliberately chosen to release the show without securing its international broadcast rights, clearly demonstrating that Star Trek’s overseas fans do not matter to them in the slightest. It’s clear where their real “priorities” lie.

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.

Is Star Trek: Lower Decks even getting an international release next month?

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.

The Mandalorian was heavily pirated in regions where Disney+ wasn’t available.

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.

This screen greeted many Star Trek fans who wanted to watch the Picard trailer on the official CBS and Amazon Prime YouTube channels.

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.

Children of Mars was supposed to be a prologue to Picard… yet it was never shown to international fans.

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.

Star Trek’s logo for Comic-Con@Home.

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.