Star Trek: Discovery won’t be available internationally.

The message above was posted on social media earlier this evening. What follows is my immediate response – a somewhat unstructured, angry response. For a more structured argument about ViacomCBS’ mishandling of the Star Trek brand internationally, check out this article.

I cannot believe what I just read. Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is not going to be made available on Netflix outside of the United States, and will only be available for international viewers sometime next year when Paramount+ arrives. I’m still digesting this truly awful news.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a go at ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and mismanages the Star Trek brand – for refusing to make Star Trek: Prodigy available internationally, despite that show being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon… a ViacomCBS-owned channel that’s available in more than 70 countries around the world.

This Discovery news comes after Prodigy has been denied to international fans. Lower Decks Season 1 was also denied a simultaneous broadcast internationally, arriving almost six months later. So I can’t be alone in asking what the fuck ViacomCBS thinks it’s playing at. Are they trying to encourage piracy? Do they just not care about Star Trek? Perhaps they want to do as much harm as possible to their own brand, and that of their mediocre second-tier streaming platform at the heart of these problems: Paramount+.

ViacomCBS is desperately but incompetently pushing Paramount+.

To make this announcement less than 48 hours before Discovery’s fourth season was due to premiere is beyond insulting. It’s the latest and most egregious “fuck you” in a long line going back a couple of years at least from a corporation that doesn’t give a damn about Star Trek’s sizeable international fanbase.

Not only is Season 4 not going to be available on Netflix, but Seasons 1-3 have been pulled – or will shortly be pulled – from the streaming service as well, gated off behind a paywall that doesn’t exist because Paramount+ isn’t available here in the UK (and elsewhere) yet. It is at least possible to get the first three seasons of the show on blu-ray, so fans who want to watch or re-watch earlier seasons will be able to do so that way. But Season 4 isn’t available… or at least it isn’t available via conventional methods.

Perhaps this is some kind of visual metaphor?

When corporations choose to become gatekeepers and refuse to share the content that they’ve produced with fans who are literally holding their wallets open screaming “take my money!” then piracy, by default, becomes the only option to access that content. Discovery actually will be available internationally, because this is the 21st Century and most folks have internet access. With a tiny amount of effort it’s going to be possible to pirate every episode of the show, allowing fans to enjoy Discovery while ensuring that ViacomCBS doesn’t see a single measly cent by way of profit. That isn’t the decision fans made, it’s the choice ViacomCBS made.

Star Trek became an international franchise at the behest of ViacomCBS and its corporate predecessors. They advocated this kind of corporate globalism because – like the greedy little Ferengi they are – they saw profit beyond America’s borders. There are Trekkies from Tierra del Fuego to St. Petersburg because globalism proved so attractive for ViacomCBS, but the corporation has once again proved beyond any doubt that it doesn’t give even the tiniest of fucks about anyone outside of North America.

Leaked photograph from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

So as I said a couple of weeks ago about Prodigy: it’s totally morally justifiable to pirate it. Go right ahead and pirate Prodigy, and pirate Discovery too. ViacomCBS has told us to keep our money and fuck off, so let’s make sure they don’t ever see another penny of it. What’s the point in continuing to support a corporation that leaves its international fans out in the cold because it can’t manage the incredibly basic task of broadcasting a television show?

Broadcasting and streaming is ViacomCBS’ entire business model – yet time and time again they fuck it up. Paramount+ is a mediocre platform at best that will never be the Netflix and Disney+ competitor that its corporate masters wish it to be. It arrived on the scene a decade too late, with too little original content, and its rollout even within the United States has been horribly mismanaged by a corporation that appears to be run by absolute morons. Paramount+ recently lost the rights to all of the Star Trek films for several months – despite ViacomCBS owning the rights to those films. And as we’re learning the hard way once again today, its international rollout has been pathetically slow.

Only for fans in North America.

It’s such a shame for all of the actors, directors, and behind-the-camera crew who clearly have put a lot of work into Discovery Season 4 that their work is going to be tainted by a truly selfish and shitty business decision. It isn’t their fault, yet their hard work is now soured in the minds of many of the show’s biggest fans because of incomprehensible corporate bullshit.

I’ve been disappointed with ViacomCBS for a while for their pathetic mishandling of the Star Trek brand, but this latest attack has come as a body blow. I’m angry – actually legitimately angry – with a cowardly corporation that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to operate in a 21st Century television and streaming market. Their mismanagement will continue to harm Star Trek – perhaps fatally so.

ViacomCBS is the company responsible for mismanaging Star Trek.

I can’t speak for every Trekkie, but a lot of Star Trek’s international fans are losing patience with this corporation. It’s long past time for ViacomCBS to get a grip and start managing the franchise properly – before too much harm is done. Star Trek is an amazing franchise that everyone should be able to watch together and share with one another no matter where they’re from – but disgusting and insulting corporate decisions continue to get in the way and actively harm Star Trek.

Lower Decks is so much less than it could and should be entirely because ViacomCBS fucked up its international broadcast. The same will be true of Prodigy – a decision compounded in that case by the utterly ridiculous broadcast schedule. Four episodes, then a two-month break? What fuckwit came up with that idea? And now Discovery.

Here’s a newsflash for the ViacomCBS board: fans aren’t going to wait for the mediocre Paramount+ to arrive. A lot of Trekkies will pirate the show, and a lot of viewers who had been looking forward to seeing it on Netflix just won’t bother; they’ll have forgotten all about it by next year. So let’s all sarcastically applaud ViacomCBS for hammering a nail into the coffin of Star Trek. I hope someone out there with a modicum of business acumen will be able to step in and save the day – but I’m not holding my breath.

The Star Trek franchise – including 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.

Where are the Prodigy toys?

Sometimes it feels as though ViacomCBS doesn’t know how to manage a major international franchise like Star Trek. The amateurish rollout of Paramount+ internationally is a great example, as is the streaming service losing all of the Star Trek films for several months. I’ve covered these topics before, and without retreading too much old ground let’s just say that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to get a grip, otherwise fans – especially fans from outside of the United States – are going to run out of patience with the corporation, and the casual viewers who make up the majority of any television audience won’t even find out about the latest shows and films.

Today, though, I wanted to tackle a different way in which ViacomCBS is mismanaging the Star Trek brand: toys and merchandise.

Maybe it’s true that action figures for a show like Star Trek: Picard wouldn’t sell particularly well. That series primarily targetted an adult audience – fans of The Next Generation (or at least folks who remember that series) and who are primarily 35+. There was at least some attempt to sell Picard merchandise both before and during the show’s first season, though, with things like T-shirts and even “Château Picard” wine available via the official Star Trek shop.

Château Picard hoodie, anyone?

In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek gave even the venerable Star Wars a run for its money in the merchandising and toy departments. Not only were there action figures of practically every minor character to ever make an appearance on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, but there were video games, pinball machines, pretend-play toys, playsets, model kits, dress-up outfits, and much more besides. In the ’90s I managed to assemble a modest Star Trek collection of my own, primarily the Playmates line of action figures as well as a few model kits – I was a big model builder back then!

But since the franchise returned to the small screen in 2017, there hasn’t been any noticeable effort on the part of ViacomCBS to merchandise the Star Trek brand – meaning that the corporation is missing out on a significant additional revenue stream from its biggest brand, one that would supplement the income it makes from streaming the various shows and films. Just look at Star Wars: sales of merchandise long ago eclipsed the box office receipts for all of the films combined.

Star Wars has so much merchandise that Disney can literally make merchandise-themed Star Wars films and games.

As I said, it’s possible that not every Star Trek project would warrant the same level of merchandise and toys. But even then, ViacomCBS has been lacking. Look at the Eaglemoss collection of Star Trek starships as a prime example: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in January 2020, but it took until June 2021 – almost eighteen months later – to release a single model starship from the series.

A corporation the size of ViacomCBS shouldn’t need to be told that the prime time to cash in on a show is while it’s being broadcast. That’s merchandising 101. Waiting eighteen months is pathetic and ridiculous – and it isn’t the fault of collectibles company Eaglemoss. The fault lies with ViacomCBS for not securing these merchandising agreements sooner.

The same is true of Discovery, which only started getting significant merchandise well after Season 1 had come and gone. And even now we’ve passed the second season of Lower Decks, Star Trek’s official shop still carries precious little by way of products from the series.

It took ViacomCBS more than eighteen months to release this model of Picard’s La Sirena.

That brings us to Star Trek: Prodigy, which premiered a couple of weeks ago – for those viewers whom ViacomCBS deemed worthy of being permitted to watch the series. The rest of us outside of North America are still waiting to know if and when we’ll be allowed to watch it (lawfully). But that’s beside the point right now.

Prodigy is a show made for kids. It has more going on, things that adults will enjoy, but its main focus is on the younger audience – making it a prime candidate for selling toys, games, and other merchandise. So… where are all the Prodigy toys?

There are a mere ten Prodigy items for sale from the official Star Trek shop, most of which are the show’s basic logo slapped on mugs and T-shirts.

It’s no good launching a line of Prodigy toys next year. Kids who are streaming the show now want those toys now – and with the holidays approaching it’s literally the best time of the year to be in the toy business. I can understand why ViacomCBS might’ve felt a Soji action figure or an Admiral Picard doll wouldn’t sell like hot-cakes, but Prodigy should be absolutely perfect for all sorts of tie-in products.

Many cartoons and television shows made for kids are little more than twenty-minute toy advertisements. Whole franchises like Transformers and My Little Pony have been created as toys first, cartoons second, and they make a lot of money for their respective companies that way. I’m not suggesting Prodigy should go to that extreme, but even nowadays with kids spending more time with smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets there’s still room for toys and games.

Kids do still play with toys…

For a television show aimed at kids to be broadcast with no kid-friendly tie-in products strikes me as profoundly strange in the current commercial climate. And some folks might be thinking “hey, that’s actually a good thing!” because it means ViacomCBS isn’t doggedly chasing every last dollar. But to me it’s yet another indication of the truly amateurish way that the corporation is handling its biggest franchise.

One of the earliest memories that I have of Star Trek isn’t a television episode or film, it’s a product. My uncle – who boasts a fabulous collection of Star Trek merchandise – showed me a toy phaser from The Original Series that must’ve been made in the ’70s or possibly the early ’80s, which lit up and made a sound when the trigger was pushed. I don’t think seeing that toy was what pushed young me to become a Trekkie, but good quality toys that look like fun absolutely can be the way kids first get interested in a franchise like Star Trek.

I think this was the toy phaser I’m remembering…

Prodigy is full of fun, unique, and colourful designs that would make for amazing toys, dolls, playsets, and pretend-play scenarios. The series is aimed at children, and from the point of view of a longstanding Trekkie, I want it to be successful at converting at least some of those kids into fans of Star Trek as a whole. The entire reason for creating a show like this is to bring new, younger fans into the fandom – and to lay the groundwork for Star Trek’s continued success. As I’ve said before: if Star Trek remains the sole preserve of fans who loved the franchise in the ’60s and/or the ’80s and ’90s then it won’t survive – and it won’t deserve to survive. New fans are the lifeblood of any fandom.

So when I see ViacomCBS mishandling the brand and not taking full advantage of it I feel truly disappointed with a corporation that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Before Prodigy had aired a single episode there should’ve been the following basic tie-in products at a bare minimum: action figures and/or dolls of each of the main characters, at least one playset of the USS Protostar, dress-up costumes of the main characters – including a Starfleet uniform – and pretend-play toys of things like phasers and tricorders. These items should’ve been available worldwide at a reasonable price so that kids who like the show could remain engaged with Star Trek outside of the half-hour per week where they’re watching the episodes.

The USS Protostar from Prodigy.

Some of ViacomCBS’ other failures when it comes to Star Trek actually feel less significant than this massive missed opportunity. It isn’t just about making money on each product sold – and in the short term, while the show and Paramount+ build up their reputations, it’s even possible that the corporation would make a moderate loss. But the longer-term prospects of merchandising a show like Prodigy are significant. As kids who don’t watch the show see the toys at their friends’ houses they’ll ask what Star Trek is and maybe get into the series for themselves. With Star Trek toys on the shelves of every major supermarket and toy shop, people who weren’t aware of the franchise’s return will realise that Star Trek is back. This kind of word-of-mouth advertising pays for itself, and that’s something very difficult to pull off on social media (especially given the truly crap way ViacomCBS manages Star Trek on social media – but one battle at a time, eh?)

I’ve made no secret over the past couple of years that I have issues with the way ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand. And I don’t raise these points out of spite – I want them to manage Star Trek better because I care about Star Trek’s future success. Right now, decisions like these make it seem as though Star Trek is very much a lesser brand even in the minds of the people who are supposed to be running it. When you can turn up at any supermarket or toy shop and see dozens of Star Wars toys, yet nothing at all from Star Trek, it’s disappointing.

The premiere of Prodigy, a series aimed at kids, should have come with at least some toys and games to go along with the show. Making money from that kind of merchandising arrangement is one reason why, but another far more important reason is engagement – making sure that kids remain engaged with Prodigy, its world, and its characters when they aren’t watching the show is key to keeping them coming back. In 2021, practically every kids show has some kind of tie-in product – and it’s a damning indictment of the sloppy, amateurish way that ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand that Prodigy doesn’t.

Star Trek: Prodigy is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States. No international broadcast has been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Prodigy 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.

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.