A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the 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.

The ad campaign for Paramount+ has been surprisingly strong

In early March, CBS All Access is being relaunched under the new name Paramount+. As a Trekkie, I’m invested in the future of Star Trek, and it’s my hope that Paramount+ will be a successful, stable home for the franchise in the 2020s and beyond. The rebranding of CBS All Access is in many ways a positive thing, especially as ViacomCBS will be taking Paramount+ international, beginning with launches in Australia and the Scandinavian countries.

At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel that, if CBS All Access had proved to be the runaway success ViacomCBS was hoping for, the rebranding would be unnecessary. ViacomCBS has never been totally up-front about subscriber numbers, viewership, or revenue, so it’s hard to tell how big of a success CBS All Access has really been. But we’re drifting off-topic.

The rebranding has led to an ad campaign in the run-up to next month’s launch of Paramount+, and I have to admit that I’m surprised at how fun the commercials have been.

Anson Mount during the Super Bowl ad.

As someone who doesn’t watch broadcast television any more, I don’t actually see a lot of ads. But because I follow Star Trek and Paramount+ on social media I’ve seen most of the adverts made for the new service, including one which was broadcast during the Super Bowl – the single biggest and most valuable day of the year in terms of television advertising in the United States. The fact that ViacomCBS paid millions of dollars for a Super Bowl commercial shows how seriously they’re taking the launch of Paramount+.

Star Trek has been front and centre of this ad campaign, with the stars of Discovery, Picard, and the upcoming Strange New Worlds all being featured prominently. There was also a separate Star Trek Universe ad that showed off the franchise. These ads have been clever and funny, and above all they’re memorable. After being shown prominently during the Super Bowl, and being discussed online, I don’t think there can be many folks in the United States who are unaware of the impending arrival of Paramount+ – and hopefully that has already begun to translate into pre-orders and subscribers to the service.

Sir Patrick Stewart during the Super Bowl ad.

Sonequa Martin-Green reprised her role as Michael Burnham – albeit in the “old” Discovery uniform – for the ads, and Anson Mount returned as Captain Pike too. We also saw Ethan Peck’s Spock, and of course Sir Patrick Stewart was heavily featured and narrated the commercials. The message was clear: Star Trek is back, and the best place to see it is on Paramount+.

A couple of years ago Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, passed away. There was a campaign online to have the song Sweet Victory from the cartoon incorporated into the Super Bowl halftime show, but fans were left disappointed when it was only given the barest of mentions. The Paramount+ Super Bowl ad featured the song – as SpongeBob SquarePants is a Nickelodeon show, and Nickelodeon is a ViacomCBS company. This alone has brought a huge amount of online attention to Paramount+ from fans who felt the 2019 Super Bowl didn’t go far enough, and whoever it was in ViacomCBS’ marketing department that came up with the idea deserves a raise!

Hopefully it will be a “sweet victory” for Paramount+!

There are still arguably too many streaming platforms, especially in the United States. And over the next few years we’ll see which survive and which end up either closing down or amalgamating in order to remain competitive. Paramount+ is not quite at the same level as Netflix or Disney+ – but ViacomCBS have a huge advantage over the likes of Apple TV+ in the sense that they can draw on a huge library of content that they already have. They’re not starting from scratch with original content nor having to pay expensive licensing rights to other people’s films and shows. In my opinion (as someone watching from the outside) that does give the service a boost.

As SpongeBob SquarePants showed during the Super Bowl, building up goodwill and using nostalgia to hook in fans – especially younger ones – is a step in the right direction as Paramount+ gets ready for its debut. I never used CBS All Access as someone who doesn’t live in the United States, but one of the criticisms levelled against it was that it didn’t have a lot going on. Besides Star Trek – which was the flagship franchise, especially when it launched – a lot of folks felt that CBS All Access was rather barebones, and I know of a lot of people who would subscribe during the run of a show they wanted to see – like Star Trek: Discovery – and promptly unsubscribe when the season was over. Hopefully Paramount+ will have enough new and legacy content to prevent that from happening.

Anson Mount, Stephen Colbert, and Sir Patrick Stewart dancing to Sweet Victory. Not sure who the animated guy is… maybe someone from Archer?

Paramount+ is also promising live sport – something relatively uncommon in the streaming world. Here in the UK, Amazon Prime Video have paid for the rights to some Premier League football (soccer) matches, but as far as I’m aware there aren’t many other platforms that do so regularly. If sport becomes a big part of Paramount+, that will certainly be another way to attract subscribers.

So the ad campaign has been fun, and it was especially cool to see Star Trek at the Super Bowl! I doubt that’s happened before! I’m rooting for the success of Paramount+, and I hope it will be a successful home for Star Trek – and its promised “mountain” of other content – going forward. Please bring it to the UK soon – I know of at least one person who’ll subscribe!

Paramount+ will launch in the United States on the 4th of March 2021. Launches in other countries and territories are already planned for early- and mid-2021. The service will be the new digital home of Star Trek. Paramount+, the Paramount logo, and all titles mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What difference will Paramount+ make to Star Trek?

We’ve known for a few months that CBS All Access is planning a major rebranding as Paramount+ this year, and more details have just emerged. The new service will launch – or should that be re-launch – in March, and will be the new digital home of Star Trek in the United States. Paramount+ is also going international, with launches planned for Latin America, Canada, Australia, and Scandinavian countries all before the summer of 2021.

Paramount+ was made possible by the coming together of the two halves of ViacomCBS in 2019, and in addition to content from American network CBS, the streaming platform will offer shows and films from Nickelodeon (where Star Trek: Prodigy will make its debut soon), MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, and most significantly, films released under the Paramount Pictures brand.

Films from Paramount will be a big part of the new service.

Licensing rights are complicated, though, and with many shows and films contracted to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. it seems likely that Paramount+ won’t have everything in its library immediately available in every country and territory. Star Trek: Discovery, for example, looks set to remain on Netflix outside of the United States – even in countries where Paramount+ will operate – at least in the short-to-medium term.

There was no mention of a UK launch for this new service, which from a personal point of view is a bit of a double-edged sword! On the one hand I’m disappointed that we aren’t being prioritised by ViacomCBS for this new service, but on the other hand I’m already subscribed to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for my Star Trek shows (as well as Disney+) and I don’t exactly relish adding a new streaming platform to my monthly bills!

Hopefully a UK launch isn’t too far away.

And that encapsulates the challenge facing Paramount+. Since CBS All Access launched in the United States in 2017, most people I’ve spoken to or heard from either aren’t subscribed at all or only subscribe for a few weeks to see whichever show they’re interested in, then cancel their subscription when the season ends. Netflix offers a huge library of content such that many people are content to have a year-round subscription – will that be true of Paramount+?

The name Paramount carries a certain gravitas, far more so internationally than CBS, which as an American network is not particularly well-known overseas. The addition of shows from the likes of Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV, etc. as well as Paramount’s extensive back catalogue of films does make it seem like an appealing package – but is that good enough?

One of the promises made by Paramount+.

There are a lot of streaming platforms competing for attention in the current market, so much so that we’re in an era dubbed the “streaming wars.” People who cut the cord and stopped paying for cable or satellite television did so to save money first and foremost, as well as to watch what they wanted on their own schedule. Expecting viewers to pick up half a dozen or more subscriptions pushes them back into cable television-scale costs, and for many it just won’t be worth it to pick up a second-tier service like Paramount+, especially if they already have Netflix or one of the bigger services.

However, ViacomCBS is clearly going all-in with Paramount+, and a wider international rollout looks likely, as well as taking back shows and films that are currently available elsewhere. As Paramount+ grows its library of content, both with new shows and films and by returning its older content to the platform when contracts and licenses lapse, it has the potential to be a pretty big and interesting service – certainly bigger than the likes of Apple TV+, which has to rely entirely on brand-new programming due to having no back catalogue.

SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the famous series that is coming to Paramount+.

Decades worth of films and television shows broadcast across multiple channels could be Paramount+’s ace in the hole. There’s a trend for nostalgia and returning to classics of the past – which is a big part of why Star Trek is back in the 2020s – so with that in mind, many people will be at least a little interested to see what else Paramount+ has to offer.

Paramount+ will need a well-designed user interface and a decent marketing push, but I feel the name, branding, and greater library of content are all appealing and will bring in an audience. It can take time for a streaming service to both establish itself and become profitable, so as long as ViacomCBS is willing to make the investment and give it time to pay off, hopefully the platform will at the very least become stable as time goes by.

The Paramount+ logo. Better get used to seeing it!

The rebranding is a risk in a way, and its international rollout may mean in the longer term that some Trekkies who had access to Star Trek elsewhere may lose that access as rights and licenses change. But anyone who wants to watch the various upcoming Star Trek productions will know that Paramount+ is the place to do so, and I guess that’s a good thing.

If Paramount+ were coming to the UK I would sign up, and although it will be an expense it’s one I’m happy to absorb if it means more Star Trek! The business people who own and operate the Star Trek brand decided years ago that pushing their own streaming service was the way to go, and while we can debate the merits of that versus the option of just producing shows and selling them to the likes of Netflix, it has resulted in the broadest and most varied lineup of Star Trek productions ever – something I do appreciate.

So I wish Paramount+ well. Hopefully it will be the home to Star Trek productions new and old for a long time to come, and the catalyst for continuing to expand the final frontier into new live-action shows, animated series, miniseries, and feature films. Please bring Paramount+ to the UK soon… and while you’re at it, this is a great excuse to finally remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager – doing so would surely bring in viewers who loved those shows during their original runs.

Paramount+ will launch in the United States on the 4th of March 2021. Launches in other countries and territories are already planned for early- and mid-2021. The service will be the new digital home of Star Trek. Paramount+, the Paramount logo, and all titles mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.