By Chuck Barney
East Bay Times
If you’re a devoted Trekkie, you’ve got a decision to make.
On Sept. 24, “Star Trek: Discovery” — the first new TV series spawned by the popular sci-fi franchise in 12 years — will debut on CBS, available for most of America to watch. If you really love the episode, you will crave more.
But after that initial night, the 15-episode drama will cease airing on regular television and move exclusively to the CBS All Access streaming platform. To continue watching “Discovery,” you’ll have to subscribe to the site and either pay $5.99 per month for a plan that includes commercials, or $9.99 monthly for an ad-free plan.
Not every fan, of course, will greet the CBS “bait-and-switch” scheme with a cheery Vulcan salute. But it’s just one of many adjustments viewers are having to make amid the ever-changing world of online streaming.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the choice was relatively simple for streaming newbies and so-called cord-cutters: Order Netflix. That’s where you could find a vast wealth of shows, produced by a wide range of providers.
But now, broadcast networks and cable channels — eager for a piece of the streaming action — are starting to hold back their programs and libraries for inclusion on their own stand-alone online services (See: HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, Sundance Now, CBS All Access, etc). Just this month, FX — home to “American Horror Story,” “The Americans” and other edgy fare — launched an ad-free streaming service called FX+.
Netflix, meanwhile, continues to aggressively develop original programming such as “House of Cards,” Orange Is the New Black,” “13 Reasons Why” and “The Defenders” as it prepares for a future in which it mostly offers its own content. And Netflix’s biggest rivals — Hulu and Amazon Prime — have also increased their output of original programming.
But it doesn’t end there. Apple is reportedly ready to spend billions on original fare in an effort to take on the streaming giants. The playing field is getting more crowded and the game is constantly changing.
Ultimately, these developments will put a big dent in the notion that cord-cutters — and TV enthusiasts — could ditch those outrageous cable bills and find everything they want at a single, giant all-you-can-binge streaming buffet. The online platforms generally charge between $5 and $15 a month, and if you’re interested in compiling a well-rounded roster, the costs can add up fast.
“If every (network) has a streaming service, I don’t think the average home is going to have 20 streaming services,” FX chief John Landgraf told reporters last month. “You’re seeing the beginning of a big trend and I don’t think anybody knows for sure where that trend sorts out.”
In some ways, things will be more orderly in the new world: If, for example, you’re a big “Game of Thrones” geek and get a kick out of comedies like “Silicon Valley” and “Veep,” you’ll know that you can stream those shows at HBO Now for $15 a month. Likewise, if you’re into “Homeland,” “Billions” and “Ray Donovan,” you can check out Showtime at $11 monthly. It’s cable programming without the cable.
So where else in the streaming world do viewers go to find the big-buzz, prestige shows that excite critics and win awards? If you’re judging by the Emmy Awards, which will be handed out later this month, Netflix is still the place to be.
The streaming giant goes into the Sept. 17 Emmy ceremony with 91 nominations, second behind only HBO’s 110. The most-honored Netflix shows are “Stranger Things” (19 nominations), the popular 1980s-era sci-fi thriller, and “The Crown,” a lavish drama about the reign of Elizabeth II (13 nominations).
Both of those shows, along with “House of Cards,” are up for best drama. Netflix also has two series — “Master of None” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — up for the top comedy award.
Meanwhile, Hulu has garnered 18 nominations — 13 of which were earned by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel. Other critically lauded series on Hulu include “Difficult People,” “Casual,” “The Path” and “The Mindy Project.” (Hulu, by the way, also has the entire library of “Seinfeld”).
As for Amazon, its biggest prestige show continues to be “Transparent,” the dramedy about family dynamics and gender identity. It garnered seven of the platform’s 16 Emmy nominations this year. Other top-notch Amazon originals include “Catastrophe,” “Mozart in the Jungle” “Red Oaks” and “The Tick.”