CBS All Access Uses NFL Playoffs to Launch Star Trek: Picard, Its ‘Biggest’ Show Yet

ViacomCBS relying on subscriber boost ahead of first quarterly earnings report

captain jean luc picard
Star Trek: Picard marks the return of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard to the franchise for the first time in 18 years. Trae Patton/CBS
Headshot of Jason Lynch

The streaming space was wide open when CBS All Access debuted in 2014. As it becomes more crowded by the day, thanks to the likes of Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+ and of course Netflix, CBS All Access is prepared to deploy the biggest tool yet in its arsenal as it tries to not only maintain but increase its slice of the streaming pie.

Today, the company is debuting Star Trek: Picard, which “will certainly be our biggest original series to date,” Marc DeBevoise, chief digital officer of ViacomCBS and CEO and president of CBS Interactive, said last week at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.

Star Trek: Picard is set to usurp the streaming service’s previous flagship show—Star Trek: Discovery, which debuted in 2017—because it marks the return of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard to the franchise for the first time in 18 years. Stewart played the character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran for seven seasons ending in 1994, and in four movies, most recently 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis.

Parent company ViacomCBS is counting on Star Trek: Picard to boost its CBS All Access subscriber base to meet the company’s goal of having 25 million combined subscribers to All Access and its Showtime OTT offering by 2025. Currently, the two services have more than 10 million combined subscribers, a number ViacomCBS expects will increase (thanks in part to Picard) by the time it releases updated figures on Feb. 20 during its first earnings call as a combined company.

In order to maximize Picard’s chance at success, CBS All Access is taking advantage of a scheduling quirk to debut the show in the middle of two high-profile live events: the AFC Championship Game, which averaged 41.1 million viewers last Sunday, and this year’s Grammy Awards, which airs on Sunday (instead of its usual February spot). Because CBS All Access also offers the live CBS telecast, the service often sees large influxes of new subscribers around big events.

“It’s a magical year where we have these two large, live events, which do drive a nice spike in signups typically,” DeBevoise told Adweek, though he acknowledged that users who subscribe because of live events are “not usually the stickiest subs. … But it’s two big tentpoles in the same week, so we decided to launch it on Thursday as a great way to promote it.”

The streaming service employed a similar approach last January, when it debuted Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery in the week between the NFL divisional playoffs and the AFC Championship Game.

In the run-up to today’s premiere, the former CBS Corp. has been promoting Picard across all its platforms, particularly during the NFL playoff games. There is some promotion on Viacom platforms, but given that the Viacom-CBS merger just closed last month, “the real connectivity is going to be with CBS because we had planned it for months and months,” said DeBevoise.

Giving Picard an early Season 2 renewal, ahead of Season 1’s debut, was also part of the company’s marketing strategy. “We wanted to make sure that people knew we were super-committed to the show,” he added.

Star Trek: Picard is kicking off CBS All Access’s new schedule strategy for 2020: a series premiere every month, with one tentpole series debuting each quarter. Following Picard, The Twilight Zone will return in the second quarter, Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is set for the third quarter, and a new miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand will round out the year in the fourth quarter. “If you’re a subscriber, you may want to stick with us for those four things alone,” said DeBevoise.

Now that the streaming service has built its original slate up to 12 shows per year, “we can actually be super strategic about scheduling,” he noted. Before, when it had far fewer shows, scheduling was driven more by “what’s been completed and when can we put it out there and try to drive value for the user. Now we’re being a little more thoughtful about how we can keep the user and retain them.”

To that end, at the same time it is positioning Picard for maximum viewership, CBS All Access is looking to use the new show to help launch its other upcoming series, Interrogation, which debuts on Thursday, Feb. 6. (While most CBS All Access episodes are released weekly, all 10 episodes of Interrogation will drop at once, as they are designed to be watched in any order.)

“The idea is that it will draft off of the lift we’re going to have here,” DeBevoise said. “If we’re going to launch one in February, we might as well put it pretty close [to Picard]. And we think there’s some demo overlap between those two.”

At the winter press tour last week, CBS All Access execs said they aren’t worried about the increased streaming competition, pointing to research that indicates 79% of CBS All Access subscribers also have a cable or satellite subscription. While 69% of the service’s subscribers are considering subscribing to another streaming service, only 6% are considering dropping All Access to do so.

Given that data, CBS All Access considers itself a “premium add-on service” with “plenty of room to grow,” DeBevoise said. New streaming services “have not and will not lead to negative impact on our growth.”

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