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How to watch Star Trek: Discovery (and why it will cost you)

CBS executives make a case for paying to subscribe to All Access

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Like many addictive things, the first time will be free, and after that, you’ll have to pay for it.

Tonight CBS will premiere the first new Star Trek TV series in 12 years at 8:30 p.m. on the company’s regular broadcast network.

Immediately afterward, the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery will stream exclusively on CBS All Access — the company’s $6 per month streaming service (subscribe here).

And, no spoilers here, but you can bet the show’s first episode is going to leave you with some curiosity about what happens next.

After this week, the third episode will air Oct. 1 exclusively on All Access, and so will the rest of the episodes throughout the show’s first season. (Internationally, the show will air weekly on Netflix).

But why, you ask, do we have to pay to watch the new series when the previous versions of the show were free on networks or syndication?

The short answer is that CBS saw an opportunity to leverage the built-in popularity of Star Trek to help fuel its fledgling All Access streaming service. The service currently has about 1 million subscribers and the company’s goal is to grow it to 4 million by 2020.

“[We wondered] is it a CBS network show?,” recalls David Stapf, president of CBS Television Studios. “Is it a CW show — which obviously has had a lot of success with genre programming? And here was All Access in its formation that was — like all new services — somewhat dependent on what are people going to plunk money down for. So where do you find a rabid fanbase that is going to be drawn to something? And Trek obviously has a huge rabid fan base. Obviously, you’re going to have to deliver creatively, but the fans there. So it made a lot of sense to do it with All Access.”

Which makes total sense for CBS, but what about for you? How would a CBS executive pitch a consumer who might be skeptical about whether to pay for All Access?

“My answer would be: Try it; All Access is free to try and if you don’t think it’s worth the value, we get it,” CBS Interactive president Marc DeBevoise. “It’s not going to be for everybody. We know some of our customers are going to be cord cutters, some are going to be people who want CBS another way and some just want the premium content we’re offering. Also, it’s not like we’re price gouging here. I think it’s a reasonable price for the value we’re delivering. It’s not just what you get on CBS, it is 10,000 episodes of content plus live TV. We have to show people the value of the service, and I think we will.”

There’s another bit of upside for fans that CBS executives avoid discussing because they don’t like to talk about how much a show costs. But once fans watch Discovery, they’ll notice the show’s production values aren’t like a typical broadcast show, but more reminiscent of a premium cable or streaming show. CBS was able to justify spending a bit more money on Discovery since it’s going onto the paid tier. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

For more on Discovery, check out our post-premiere interview with the show’s executive producer Alex Kurtzman about the first two episodes and our recap.