The internet was recently alight, discussing the streaming service Paramount Plus – but it was anything but good press.
Star Trek: Discovery has been a staple entry on Netflix internationally since its debut in 2017 and fans expected season 4 to arrive on the platform at the tail end of this year, like clockwork. However, three days before the new season was set to launch, the official Star Trek Twitter account revealed that the show would be pulled from Netflix entirely and made exclusive to ViacomCBS' own Paramount+ streaming platform.
Paramount+ is currently only available in the US, Canada, Australia, the Nordics, Latin America and The Middle East. The UK (along with a host of European countries) will eventually gain access to the service, but not until "early 2022", and it’ll only be available to Sky customers, in the United Kingdom. Other parts of the world are also in for a long wait.
Understandably, news of season 4's newfound exclusivity generated sizeable backlash from fans internationally (you only need to read the replies to the above Tweet), claiming that this decision would encourage piracy, whilst also sowing discontent in both the show and Paramount+ as a platform.
Equally, the decision seemingly came as a shock to many of the show's own cast members. Anthony Rapp – the actor who plays Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets – discussed why this decision went against the prevalence of international Trekkies in Europe and beyond.
I hereby reach out to our many international #StarTrekDiscovery fans, who are understandably upset at the last-minute news that you won’t get to experience Season 4 until 2022. We cast members just found out about this as well, & we share your disappointment & frustration.— Anthony Rapp SAG-AFTRA National & NY Board Member (@albinokid) November 17, 2021
Paramount+ scrambled to find another international streaming host for the show, in order to minimise the damage done.
Free-to-use streaming broadcaster Pluto TV managed to step in at the last minute, but this particular saving grace comes with one huge drawback: episodes aren’t available to watch on-demand. Instead, they have to be watched live.
Individual episodes of season 4 are also being made available to purchase via VOD platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video and Google Play.
This U-turn has brought negative attention to Paramount+ and made the show infinitely more difficult for international fans to access, who would have previously been able to stream the show using their existing Netflix subscription; undoubtedly the most popular streaming platform worldwide.
Whilst the situation around Discovery season 4 and Paramount+ is a unique case within itself, it’s one of many projects that have been meddled with based on the whims of executives at US-owned streaming services; giving the strong impression that they view audiences in other markets internationally as second-fiddle.
Last year, Warner Bros. left the entertainment industry reeling, after announcing that all the label's 2021 films would debut on HBO Max on the same day they hit cinemas, in response to the global pandemic.
Whilst this did offer a solution to American viewers not yet ready to head to cinemas, it was primarily done in order to drive subscriptions to HBO Max in the pursuit of more revenue; which could then be funnelled back into creating more original content. Consequently, every single movie on the slate had to wait until the wire to confirm how it would be released internationally.
Warner Bros. studio chief Toby Emmerich told Variety that the move to keep such streaming releases US-exclusive was based on the idea that cinemas in other markets were performing markedly better, despite the fact that – in actuality – government restrictions in those various international markets actually prevented people from going to the cinema altogether.
As an example, Godzilla vs. Kong was confirmed to have a VOD rental release only weeks before it hit HBO Max (and cinemas internationally); a film that viewers in the UK only had the option to watch at home, as theatres weren’t even open at the time, as a result of pandemic-imposed restrictions.
From then on, fans simply had to wait and see if Warner Bros. movies would somehow be made available to stream outside of the US, on a case by case basis. They could sidestep the waiting game by accessing HBO Max using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but this wasn't exactly an easy way to access the content in question.
Equally, The Mandalorian dropped on Disney+ before the platform’s international launch, once again leaving lots of Star Wars fans in the dark for the first-ever live-action series in the franchise; until Disney+ rolled out in other countries, months later.
Not all platforms can offer a simultaneous global launch, of course. That said, having a plan in place for international releases, where huge IPs are concerned, is vital. What's more, such plans serve to strengthen ties between international companies and offer benefits to both businesses.
One positive example is the deal between Sky and HBO Max. Widely anticipated events – such as the Justice League Snyder Cut and the Friends Reunion Special – have been syndicated on Sky’s streaming service Now, which offers free trials for new customers and reasonably priced subscriptions, that can be cancelled at any time.
Sky and HBO Max have had a content deal in place for many years now, so perhaps it’s time for services like Paramount+ to investigate short-term partnerships of its own until the service is actually ready to make its way across international waters. Doing so avoids leaving a bad taste in audiences' mouths whilst also creating room for new business opportunities.
Entertainment companies are always looking for ways to drive subscriptions and currently, the US has the highest number of upcoming platforms that are yet to expand their reach internationally. As such, making both shows and films exclusive to these platforms alienates audiences across the rest of the world – a pretty significant viewership to ignore.
Viewers outside of the US deserve to be more than an afterthought; the recent international Netflix sensation Squid Game proves that. And frankly, it is ignorant for entertainment executives to have not already adopted a global mindset in this day and age of streaming.
We can only hope that this recent upset and embarrassment, caused by the mishandled release season 4 of Star Trek: Discovery encourages US streaming corporations to take the rest of the world into consideration sooner in a show's release strategy.
What I’m watching this week
If you’ve been a long-time reader of The Buffer, then you’ll know that I’m a huge Marvel fan. The first two episodes of Hawkeye are out now on Disney+ – the last live-action Marvel show of the year, starring the sharp-shooting Avenger, Clint Barton.
Whilst Jeremy Renner gets top-billing, the show's real star is Kate Bishop – played by Hailee Steinfeld. Already, this show has just the right balance of hilarious interactions, fast-paced action and mystery to keep me hooked. Plus, it’s all sprinkled with a dash of Christmas cheer. What more could you want?