CBS All Access Hopes The Twilight Zone Will Grow Its Base Before New Streaming Rivals Arrive

Company plans to triple its OTT subscribers by 2022

Two episodes of The Twlight Zone, executive produced and hosted by Jordan Peele, debut today on CBS All Access. Robert Falconer/CBS
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As rivals Disney, Comcast, Apple and AT&T prepare their own streaming services to launch over the next year, CBS All Access has enjoyed a three-year head start, as it builds its slate of originals and its subscriber base. In February, CBS said that CBS All Access and its Showtime OTT offering now have a combined 8 million subscribers (CBS All Access accounts for roughly half that), and the company plans to triple that number by 2022, raising its subscriber projections to 25 million.

CBS All Access is counting on its reboot of The Twilight Zone, executive produced and narrated by Jordan Peele, to help meet those lofty goals, especially before those new streaming competitors begin arriving later this year. The show premieres today with new episodes; subsequent episodes will stream each Thursday beginning on April 11.

Coming later this year is a second Star Trek series, focusing on Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart’s character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And two additional Star Trek series are in the works: the comedy Lower Decks, and a show centered on Michelle Yeoh’s character from Star Trek: Discovery. And CBS All Access has ordered a new event series based on Stephen King’s The Stand (previously made into an ABC miniseries in 1994), which will debut next year.

As The Twilight Zone debuts, Marc DeBevoise, president and COO, CBS Interactive, spoke with Adweek about CBS All Access’ head start in the OTT space, why he’s not focusing on his competitors and how he’ll keep the service from turning into Star Trek All Access.

Adweek: You have this multi-year head start over many of your rivals, and were able to grow your original content in a less-pressurized time frame than they are facing. How important has that been?
DeBevoise: Having that head start has been great, although this market is not zero-sum. It is not, ‘one is going to win and everyone else is going to lose.’ I think multiple players are going to thrive. As we like to say, there’s a rocket ship taking off and we have our seat. Others may be on the rocket ship too, but we’re going to the next level of whatever the thing may be, and we’ve secured our seats on there.

Have you changed anything about your approach or scheduling in response to knowing when these new competitors will be arriving?
No. I don’t think we’re sitting here managing any of it relative to some other folks maybe launching services. Frankly, they’ve not announced any actual timing yet. They have lofty goals and they’re putting it out there, but we couldn’t possibly manage [for] that. Our programming slate has always been, add two to three a year as we grew. We’ve been successful at doing that.

You used to premiere your new episodes on Sundays, but The Good Fight and The Twilight Zone are airing new episodes on Thursdays this year. Is that so people have viewing options for the weekend?
Over the last year-plus, Thursday has been our day for originals. We like that day because it gets us ready for the weekend and it is a good day for us to do it operationally. I think those release dates and timing like that matters less in the new world. People are coming when they want, and we’re finding the viewership extends. Star Trek: Discovery was our biggest show well beyond its run. It ran for 15 weeks its first season, and [viewership] didn’t go off a cliff [after its finale aired]. It kept running.

And why did you decide to premiere Twilight Zone on a Monday?
We have a unique few things going on in that month, mainly March Madness, feeding into the Final Four over that week. The shows were going to be ready, and we’d like to get more time [for people to sample] rather than less. So we felt like putting those there in that moment, it’s almost like a sneak peek. Think of it as three days early, being able to put those out there. And we also thought that launching “The Comedian” [the season premiere episode, starring Kumail Nanjiani as a stand-up comic] on April Fools Day would be a unique launch timing, just like we launched Tell Me a Story on Halloween.

In addition to March Madness, The Twilight Zone’s rollout is also piggybacking on the recent release of Jordan’s film Us. Was that timing intentional?
That’s not strikingly intentional—we weren’t sitting here waiting for the movie to come out—but his timing is dictated by his schedule. If you think about it, we’re piggybacking on Star Trek Discovery, which will still be running through April. We’re piggybacking on the audience for The Good Fight, which [began airing Season 3] a few weeks before. We’re piggybacking off March Madness. So I think we’re going to have a lot of things going on the service, and the great thing about our evolution is, we’re going to have something [new] every month to be working with, so it’s going to be more strategic around, when are things deliverable and how do they fit into the lineup?

Between Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and your announcement about The Stand, it seems like you’re counting on the big IP swings to make waves and bring people in, and then the other original shows to keep them there.
Are there some things that are acquisition vehicles and some things that are retention vehicles? Yes. But remember, it depends on who you are. If you’re a huge Good Wife and Good Fight fan, or you’re a big Christine Baranski fan, that’s going to be our acquisition vehicle for you. What else are we going to feed you? We have to make sure there are things on that service that will help you keep the service. But as we build out the originals slate, we are certainly looking at it as branches of a tree. What’s on this branch, can we build other things on the branch of that tree, and if we can, then they can hang together. Certainly you can see some of our things hanging really well together. And I would argue, some of the things you don’t think hang together, the branches probably touch each other in ways that you haven’t realized.

With four Star Trek series in the works, how do you prevent your platform from turning into Star Trek All Access?
Look, we have 10,000 episodes of content on the service, over 100 series. We run the live feeds of television now, it is a very robust service. There are lots of other Star Trek things in the service. We have every episode ever made. So I think this idea that there would be so much Star Trek that it would drown it out, is probably not the case. The [new shows] tell different stories about different people. It’s not just spinoff upon spinoff. There is unique storytelling in those universes, and Trek gives you a very broad cloth to work with. So what you’ll see is, we have Discovery in ’19, we will likely have it in ‘20, you will have Lower Decks in ‘20, and you will have Picard in late ‘19. The next one is going to be further out, and at some point, some of these things will have end of runs. And so our view is, it’s going to be a life cycle that lasts a very long time, and is going to be very good for our service, and doesn’t oversaturate the universe.

Netflix and Hulu announced price increases, and decreases, in January. Are there any pricing changes for All Access in the works?
No. We’re happy with where we are right now. Never say never on anything, but at this point, we feel really good about the $5.99 product with advertising, really good about $9.99 eliminating the advertising from the on-demand content. We have a nice annual plan that you can get a discount on. We’re very happy with those different distribution points. So we’re pretty pleased with where the price is.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.