Alibi V.29 No.9 • Feb 27-March 4, 2020 

Idiot Box

Don’t Cross the Streams

Latest media merger changes channels

When you think about it, it was really kind of inevitable. The countless tiny rivulets of over-the-top subscription streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple TV+, Peacock, Sony Crackle, YouTube Premium, Vudu, Tubi, Quibi) are finally starting to coalesce, slowly merging into what will eventually be one raging Mississippi River of media information. In October of last year, “Idiot Box” schooled you on the plans for AT&T-owned mass media conglomerate WarnerMedia to mash its various revenue streams into one. That basically boils down to HBO’s pre-existing HBO Now streaming service joining forces with Warner Bros.’ long-promised, yet-to-launch streaming service to form HBO Max, your new one-stop monthly subscription service for all things Warner (HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TCM, Warner Bros., New Line, Crunchy Roll, Looney Tunes, The CW, DC Comics).

That was followed, late last year, by news that CBS and Viacom would merge together to form ViacomCBS. That means that Hollywood’s third major media conglomerate (behind Disney and WarnerMedia) is now the home to CBS, Showtime, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and the publishing firm of Simon & Schuster. As with the HBO/Warner merger, this leaves ViacomCBS with a number of streaming services (including Showtime Anytime, BET Plus and Pluto TV) which now seem like they’re competing against one another. The solution: Smash ’em together! The mildly successful CBS All Access (home to all things “Star Trek”) is now set to merge with all of Viacom’s other brands to offer a wide slate of movies and TV in a brand spankin’ new, yet-to-be-named streaming service.

The first visible impact of this corporate merger is actually CBS All Access’ “Picard.” As fans who’ve been watching know, the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spin-off ties heavily into the “Kelvin Timeline” used in Paramount’s most recent Star Trek movies. (If you don’t understand, ask a Trekkie.) Until recently, that wasn’t possible because—thanks to the often convoluted nature of corporate America—the “Star Trek” TV shows were controlled by CBS, while the Star Trek movies were owned by Paramount Pictures. Now, that they’re finally both part of the same corporate family, you can expect even more Trek on Trek action. There’s the half-hour animated sitcom “Lower Decks,” the Michelle Yeoh-led Section 31 spin-off and a whole bunch more shows lined up in the photon tube.

But the new platform will move CBS All Access beyond the Star Trek business with the help of some added bonus content. Since its launch in 2014, CBS All Access has been one of the more anemic streaming services out there. You get full-season stacks of most current CBS shows (feel free to rewatch “Big Brother” all you want), a library of classic shows (“Cheers,” “MacGyver”) and a handful of CBS All Access originals (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Star Trek: Shorts,” “Star Trek: Picard” and … um … Oh, yeah that “Twilight Zone” remake with Jordan Peele). To that you can eventually add a bunch of new Viacom-owned content—what ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish promises will include “30,000 episodes of TV and up to 1,000 movies.” What those actually consist of remains to be seen. Nickelodeon, BET, MTV and Comedy Central are all Viacom properties, so perhaps we’ll be able to access old episodes of “You Can’t Do That on Television,” “Sistas,” “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Drawn Together.” (Just don’t expect Comedy Central’s “South Park.” That was already sold off to HBO Max.)

ViacomCBS has promised a “soft launch” of the revamped service sometime later this year. No word on when that will be or what it will cost. (CBS All Access currently charges $5.99 a month with commercials and $9.99 without.) But rest assured: No matter what, it will definitely be one more multinational corporate streaming service filled with random content that you’ll have the privilege of paying a monthly fee to watch.