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Netflix’s Star Trek effort a different kind of discovery

Image: Netflix

9 October 2017

Niall Kitson portraitThe decline of broadcast TV is continuing apace, according to a new survey released by Ericsson.

The vendor’s eighth ConsumerLab TV report says almost 60% of viewers surveyed prefer VoD services to linear programming – up 50 percentage points on 2010.

The report found that the average consumer watches about 30 hours of content per week – a all-time high. Some 70% of respondents said they watched videos on their smartphone, taking up about a sixth of their total viewing time.

It can be quick to dismiss a survey based on its sample size but Ericsson’s latest polled 20,000 viewers in 13 countries, giving an OLED-quality picture of contemporary viewing habits.

So we’re watching more content than ever on more devices and with VR about to enter the main stream the creators will face renewed pressure to producer engaging content with applications across multiple platforms and viewing styles.

Which brings me to Star Trek.

I’ve started watching Star Trek: Discovery and so far I’m enjoying it. The production design, effects and pacing. It’s prestige TV and that doesn’t come cheap. That it’s making it to Netflix and CBS’ nascent VoD service the day after airing is great but there’s a caveat. Netflix is in need of a hit to make up for tepid responses to its in-house productions Bloodline, Gypsy and Friends from College and there is some low-hanging fruit out there while the Marvel shows enjoy a bt of a fallow period.

Cartoon Network’s Rick and Morty comes with a ready-made fan base but a Trek property, all going to plan, is worth about seven years with a long tail as new viewers embrace the original series, Deep Space Nine etc. That’s a big window for bringing in new subscribers. Maybe some will even stick around for The Expanse.

The interesting thing here is that Netflix’s production model is data-driven. It commissions shows based on what it’s subscribers watch. Star Trek: Discovery comes from an established property with some latitude to take risks so long as it has some degree of fan service. If co-productions and expensive buy-ins end up being more profitable than Netflix’s own content, we could be in for a sea change in how the online streaming giant commissions its shows and manages its catalogue.

Will the old ways prove to be the best? Netflix’s bottom line is hoping data and on-demand content will beat out appointment TV and human intuition for good. While the latter is certainly on the way out, the former will prove much tougher to crack.


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