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Star Trek: Discovery fails to keep CBS All Access on-track

CBS All Access

Star Trek: Discovery was a big gamble by CBS. The broadcaster hoped it would be the spark that propelled CBS All Access into millions of American homes. It looks like the show has fallen far short of the mark.

CBS All Access subscriber growth slows

CBS says The Grammys provided the second-best day for subscriber signups to All Access, behind the launch of Star Trek: Discovery in September 2017. The company says it now has more than 2 million subscribers to All Access.

One year ago, CBS said that Showtime had 1.5 million subscribers and that the All Access had “almost as

Les Moonves CBS

Les Moonves, CBS head

many.” That means in the last year All Access has acquired around half-a-million new subscribers, or just over 40,000 subscribers a month. The annual growth rate is currently 33%, a strong performance by any measure. However, it looks like growth has slowed dramatically.

In July of 2016, CBS All Access had 1 million subscribers according to the company’s CEO Les Moonves. This data suggests the SVOD service acquired a half-million subscribers between July 2016 and February 2017, or about 70,000 subscribers a month. This data suggests an equivalent annual growth rate of more than 100%.

2017 growth is dramatically slower than 2016, despite the release of a blockbuster like Discovery.

How many Discovery viewers are there?

CBS Star Trek DiscoveryCBS does not release viewing figures for Star Trek: Discovery, so it is difficult to know exactly how many people are watching. However, we can estimate a maximum audience for the show from the subscriber numbers we do know.

A good proportion of the most recent signups to All Access likely came with the intention of watching at least some of the episodes of the show. Let us assume half of the new sign-ups, or 250,000, fall into that category. A popular show like Big Bang Theory is getting ratings of around 2.8 in the 18-49 age range for a total audience of 3.6 million. Assuming Discovery does at least this well with All Access customers signed up before it launched, we would see an additional 50,000 for a total of 300,000 subscribers watching.

Finally, we need to account for family viewing and the fact that most families share their SVOD passwords with each other. To be generous, let’s assume that if one person in an All Access household watches Discovery everyone does. Since there are 2.6 people in the average American home, the maximum audience for an episode of Star Trek: Discovery is 780,000.

The worst performing Star Trek was Enterprise in its final season. It got ratings between 2.5 and 3. Discovery’s U.S. audience doesn’t seem to be anything like that. Any way you look at it, the show is the least-watch Star Trek series in franchise history. CBS’s decision to release the show through All Access appears to have deprived it of most of its audience.

CBS could have a problem with All Access

These are not very encouraging results for CBS. The company has set itself the goal of reaching 8 million subscribers to Showtime and All Access combined by 2020. At the current rate of subscriber acquisition, CBS All Access will win an additional 1.4 million subscribers by the end of 2020, for a total of 3.5 million.

Star Trek: Discovery’s performance doesn’t bode well for the future of CBS All Access. The data suggests one big exclusive show is not enough to keep subscriber growth on track to pass CBS’s 2020 goal. To do that the company will have to keep releasing big-budget shows through the service.

Why it matters

CBS was looking to Star Trek: Discovery to deliver a surge in subscribers to the All Access subscription service.

It doesn’t look like the show delivered and CBS is in danger of missing its subscriber goal for 2020.

Releasing Star Trek: Discovery through All Access deprived it of much of its audience. The show is the least watched Star Trek in the franchise’s history.


(3) Comments

  1. I disagree with the methodology used to determine Star Trek Discovery viewership.
    Using this methodology use of Heroin in the USA is down 100% since 1924.
    CBS All Access may be a blunder, and this is obviously the point of your article, but the limited amount of viewers you include in your methodology by subscription password sharing barely accounts for viewers using other means. Bit-Torrent downloading, and quasi-legal Streaming On Demand sites most likely provide Discovery Episodes to more US Trek fans than All Access does.

    It’s unfortunate that you deemed it necessary to use Star Trek Discovery name recognition to bring attention to an otherwise accurate and informative article.

    • Little confused by your comment, Nathan. I wanted to discuss the value of Star Trek to CBS. That’s why I didn’t include file sharing and other illegal viewing methods. All the illegal activity can do for CBS is detract from the value of Star Trek (taking away potentially paying customers etc.) I was attempting to put an upper bound on legal viewers. Since it is generally accepted within the industry that people share subscriptions within a family, accounting for that seemed fair.

  2. I consider myself a big Star Trek fan, having watched all the series and owning every set that made it to blu-ray. However, I’m currently paying more than enough for TV. I can’t justify paying another $40+ for a one time viewing of a single season. For that price it better be a Blu-ray set that I can watch repeatedly.

    I may consider the $10 for a single month of binge watching, but since most ST:DIS news has passed, the feeling of being left out has also passed, and so I’m more inclined to just wait for the blu-rays.

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