We’ve talked a lot about anticipation in this issue—anticipation and expectations for something happening in a galaxy far, far away. But similar anticipation and expectations for events in our own galaxy are also building now that the American television network CBS has announced a new Star Trek series.
It’s been more than a decade since the last series, Enterprise, left the airwaves. Since then, fans have received only two films—helmed by the same man who is bringing Star Wars back—and nothing more. For a franchise that delivered new material on a weekly basis for 18 consecutive years, this silence has left these fans far more frustrated than those of Star Wars.
The J.J. Abrams films have received, at best, a lukewarm reception from longtime Star Trek fans, who see them as little more than summer action flicks masquerading as Star Trek. While J.J. makes beautiful movies, the heart of Star Trek—what has made it so popular for so long—has been missing from these productions.
So the arrival of a new TV series in January 2017 has fandom abuzz. September 8, 2016, will mark 50 years since the premier of Star Trek. While the golden anniversary year will be marked by the release of a third film by Abrams’ Bad Robot and Paramount, it’s the TV project by CBS that has fans excited. As you can imagine, debate over what it should be—and fears that it won’t live up to expectations—is already rampant.
For those of us who love Star Trek and live outside the United States, one of the biggest concerns is whether or not we’ll be able to actually see this new show—at least in a timely manner. In an age of streaming media services like Netflix and Hulu, it’s technically very easy to deliver content anywhere in the world simultaneously. But traditional geographic licensing still has a stranglehold on the industry overall, and the immediate thought is that, in Japan, we’ll be locked out.
In their announcement, however, CBS said “The next chapter of the Star Trek franchise will also be distributed concurrently for television and multiple platforms around the world by CBS Studios International.”
But what does this mean? Let’s make no mistake. The return of Star Trek is all about business. CBS isn’t creating a new series because they feel bad that fans have been left without new stories for ten years. They’re doing it because they are trying to boost their fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access.
Star Trek has been among the most popular content streamed on Netflix over the past few years, and more than one streaming service approached CBS about collaborating on a new show. This signaled that the time was right for a revival. And just as Paramount used Star Trek to launch its UPN network in 1995 (after it tried to do the same in a failed network creation attempt in 1977), CBS is hoping to kick its new streaming service into warp speed.
This new Star Trek will be the first series created specifically for CBS All Access. In other words, this series is being created for streaming delivery from the very start. This should make it easier for international audiences to get it at the same time as the U.S. CBS owns the property, the new show, and the delivery mechanism. Will they make CBS All Access available in Japan? It sounds simple, but All Access offers thousands of episodes from CBS’s current and past seasons. CBS doesn’t own full rights to all programming that airs on the network, so bringing the service to an international audience could be complicated.
If you buy into the Star Trek vision of the future, the complexity of accessing media from one country in another—when we can transfer the actual data almost instantly—is incredibly frustrating. Whether you like Star Trek, SNL, or college football, as an expat you’ve no doubt felt the pain. I’m hopeful that this new series may lead the way in breaking down the barriers created by geo-blocking, but I’m fearful it won’t. And as someone who publishes an entire podcast network devoted to the examination of Star Trek (http://trek.fm), I may be left on the sidelines of the franchise’s revival. For the moment, I’ll trust that CBS truly is attempting to transform television delivery, and that Star Trek might finally get a chance to make headway in Japan.