Here we go again. When Trekkies all over the world should be talking with boundless enthusiasm and unbridled passion about the latest Star Trek announcements, we’re slapped down hard by ViacomCBS – sorry, that should be “Paramount” or “Paramount Global” now – and the corporation’s latest mess. I’m genuinely getting worried for the medium-to-long-term prospects of the Star Trek franchise under the corporation’s current leadership.
Just when I thought ViacomCBS had hit rock bottom with the Discovery Season 4 debacle, paying Netflix to remove the show internationally and preventing fans outside the United States from being able to watch, the corporation has, through sheer ingenuity, managed to sink even lower. Using outdated copyright laws and social media platforms’ heavy-handed DMCA policies to actively attack Trekkies is the latest move; a new low for a corporation that I naïvely assumed could sink no lower.
ViacomCBS (or whatever it wants to rebrand itself as now) is a corporation that has consistently failed to move with the times. It’s a corporation where 20th Century thinking is trying – and failing – to lead it into the 21st Century, and that’s the poisoned well from which all of these ridiculous, outdated, and harmful policies continue to flow. ViacomCBS has an “America First” fetish that would make even Donald Trump blush, brazenly ignoring fans outside of the United States – even going so far as to point-blank refuse to broadcast brand-new episodes on international versions of its own streaming platform, Paramount+. When will this end?
An investor event today – which was live-streamed on social media – showed off a new teaser trailer for Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series bringing back Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike. Yet ViacomCBS then went on the attack, literally getting some fans’ social media accounts banned for daring to share still frames and screencaps of the trailer. At time of writing, the trailer itself has yet to be published on any of the official Star Trek social media channels, meaning fans know it’s out there but have no lawful way to access it.
There was also “news” – and I use that term in its loosest possible sense – about the painfully constipated rollout of Paramount+ internationally. We knew as early as the middle of last year that the planned launch window for the UK was “early-to-mid 2022,” so today’s so-called “announcement” that the mediocre streaming service will arrive “before the end of Q2” means absolutely nothing. The lack of so much as an attempt at precise timing, or even a narrower window, does not fill me with confidence.
Strange New Worlds – the show whose trailer is now being deliberately hidden and used as a pretext to attack fans on social media – is due to premiere in the United States in early May. The end of the second quarter of the year (or “Q2” in corporate-speak) is at the end of June. Assuming Paramount+ remains on what we could generously call its “schedule,” that seems to suggest that very few Trekkies outside of the United States will be able to watch the show.
And if Paramount+ repeats what it tried to do with Discovery Season 4 and successfully did with Prodigy Season 1, then even being a Paramount+ subscriber might not be enough to guarantee that non-American Trekkies will be able to watch Strange New Worlds anyway. In both of those cases, Paramount+ outside of the United States didn’t broadcast new episodes at the same time as they were broadcast in the United States. Paramount+ is already a second-tier streaming service on a good day, but if it gates off its own original content outside of North America, what exactly is the point in becoming a subscriber? Maybe someone at ViacomCBS should ponder that question.
Every time I think we’re starting to see signs of progress, it feels like ViacomCBS takes one step forward and at least two steps back. The corporation has no clue how to act in a 21st Century media landscape that has shifted under its feet, and despite having its own streaming platform for over seven years (CBS All Access launched in late 2014) there’s been no evidence so far that the corporation knows how to successfully operate it, let alone how to bring it to audiences around the world.
I want to support Star Trek. I want to offer my financial backing (in whatever small way I can) to ensure that the franchise continues to be successful and will continue to be produced. And there are some positive signs – Paramount+ has been adding new subscribers, Discovery has been its best-performing series, and shows like Halo and Yellowstone have attracted attention and been picked up for additional seasons. But like I said, for every step forward, there are two steps back. The reputation of ViacomCBS remains in the sewer with many of Star Trek’s biggest fans, and rebranding under a new name won’t fix that.
Social media is the biggest and most important way for any entertainment corporation to get its message out and to bring in new audiences and new subscribers. Look at shows as diverse as Game of Thrones, Chernobyl, Tiger King, and Squid Game. Social media buzz and hype were a huge factor in their success, and why they blew up far beyond their anticipated audiences to become absolutely massive. When ViacomCBS mistreats its biggest fans so badly on social media, and when its own social media marketing strategy is so painfully inadequate, it actively harms the potential success of Star Trek – and all of its other programmes.
I noted this with disappointment in 2020 when Lower Decks was denied an international broadcast, and again in 2021 when the same thing happened to Prodigy. The two most different and interesting Star Trek projects in a generation had practically unlimited potential to expand the franchise and bring in boatloads of new fans – but because ViacomCBS chose to carve them up, deciding for itself which viewers were “worthy” of being allowed to watch the new shows, that potential was wasted.
When ViacomCBS cuts off its own shows at the knees, it doesn’t just harm their potential success in the rest of the world. It harms it in the United States as well. Social media is worldwide, and if fans in the rest of the world aren’t able to participate, the potential buzz and online chatter dies down. The hype bubble deflates, hashtags don’t trend, social media algorithms don’t pick up or promote posts, and untold numbers of potential fans and viewers miss out. They never even come to hear that Lower Decks, Prodigy, or Strange New Worlds exist because ViacomCBS made sure that millions of Star Trek fans don’t talk about them online.
Attacking fans is a new low, and rebuilding trust between ViacomCBS and Trekkies should be top priority for the corporation as it moves forward. It won’t be, but it should be. But there are more problems deeply-rooted within ViacomCBS and its corporate attitude, one which puts “America First” with vigour. That kind of thinking was outdated by the turn of the millennium, and fixing it is going to be essential to the future success of Paramount+.
One way that the corporation could win back fans’ support would be to guarantee that Strange New Worlds won’t be broadcast until Paramount+ has been rolled out to more countries. If there’s a delay in the rollout, there should be a delay in the new show as well. I’m sure some American Trekkies would be disappointed, but others wouldn’t mind waiting an extra few weeks or months if it means more Trekkies will be able to join in. It would be good for the fan community, and for the reasons mentioned above it would be good for Strange New Worlds’ prospects, too.
As for me, I remain extremely disappointed with Star Trek’s corporate overlords. If Strange New Worlds doesn’t come to the UK at the same time as it does in the United States, we end up right back in the piracy debate. I feel fans have an absolute moral justification to go right ahead and pirate it – if ViacomCBS chooses not to make it available lawfully, piracy becomes the only way to access the show. I will certainly have no qualms about going down that road.
But if Strange New Worlds doesn’t come to the UK, why should I cover it? In my own small way on my little corner of the internet, I offer the Star Trek franchise what amounts to free publicity, talking about shows and sharing my passion. It would feel wrong to offer my support to a series that ViacomCBS has, for what would be the third time in as many years, tried to deny to millions of fans around the world.
My message to the board and leadership at ViacomCBS (or Paramount as it’s now going to be known) is simple: do better. Treat your fans with basic respect, stop abusing outdated copyright laws, fix your social media marketing, find a way to bring your shows to the millions upon millions of fans who are literally opening our wallets and offering you our cash, and if you can’t do all of that, then get out of the way and make room for other people who can. Your intransigence and outdated thinking have already caused immeasurable harm to Star Trek, so you need to fix those things – before it’s too late.
The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS/Paramount. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.