Last week, two deals were announced within 24 hours that each can shift the online streaming landscape. The first involves a new “Star Trek” series that will air on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access. The second announced that Jon Stewart will bring his breaking news commentary to HBO Go and HBO Now. If these deals reach their maximum potential, they will allow each service to establish itself as an original content provider, though each will face stiff challenges in the process.
CBS is trying to send the message that it’s ready to stand with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus with its “Star Trek” deal. The series will be executive produced by Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the last two movies of the franchise, and will premiere in January 2017 on CBS All Access after airing a “special preview episode” on CBS. The “Star Trek” franchise is one of the largest in the CBS library, with six television series and a gigantic fanbase. So it’s a logical place for CBS to go to try to push viewers to its streaming service. Also, this isn’t the first time that a Star Trek series kicked off a new platform. Back in 1995 when Paramount was looking for something to support the new network UPN, they created “Star Trek: Voyager,” which aided the fledgling network by earning a high viewership during its first season.
The Trek deal is the largest splash for a streaming content provider since the initial two-season, $100 million pickup of “House of Cards” by Netflix in 2011. But Netflix had more to build on than CBS All Access. Les Moonves, the head of CBS, has refused to say how many are currently subscribing to the $5.99 per month site, only suggesting that the number is greater than the 100,000 that currently subscribe to Dish Network’s Sling service. At the time of the “Cards” announcement, Netflix had 20 million subscribers. CBS is likely working from a smaller base than Netflix, so it will be more difficult to make the Trek show a success.
However, CBS will be using their linear audience, which is still the highest of any of the broadcast networks. It will include a season’s worth of NFL promotions to try to push viewers to their preview showing. The key will be making a high-quality episode of television with a cliffhanger that will help the shove.
As for Jon Stewart’s HBO deal, the details are slim. But we do know Stewart signed a four-year deal with HBO that covers new short-form digital content for HBO Now and Go, as well as a first-look deal for any film or television projects Stewart might produce during this time span. Stewart, who left “The Daily Show” earlier this year, has the opportunity to make new content multiple times per day, all of which will be uploaded as they’re ready.
In his former role, Stewart was one of the preeminent names in news, doing 22 minutes of commentary and comedy four times a week. This appears to be a part of a larger push by HBO to enter the news commentary arena, which started with “Last Week Tonight” and will continue with an upcoming nightly newscast from VICE. The key difference between HBO’s prior news projects and Stewart’s videos are that Stewart’s will be exclusively online, on the subscriber-only streaming sites. Given the success that Oliver has enjoyed in his time at HBO, it’s only natural that his mentor, Stewart, will have a similar level of triumph creatively. Still, the big question is whether Stewart is enough of a name to guide people to HBO’s online presence. HBO is probably shelling out a great deal of money to Stewart for this deal, and they need the viewership to make it worthwhile.
Ultimately, the subscriber numbers will decide whether or not these deals will be valuable to the networks. HBO has a subscriber base that will make it easier for them than CBS, but CBS has the NFL as a launching pad, which is larger than anything HBO has. However, if both deals bring the ideal number of viewers, they will open up both CBS All Access and HBO Now and Go as original programmers in the online space.