Will "Star Trek" Help CBS Take On Netflix?

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If CBS (NYSE: CBS) wants its premium digital platform to "live long and prosper," it better hope that Sunday night's debut of Star Trek: Discovery wooed more than just longtime fans of the sci-fi franchise. The media giant aired the new series' first show last night on its namesake network. It's also the last time that Star Trek: Discovery will air on CBS itself.

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The new show will stream exclusively on CBS All Access, where folks pay $5.99 a month for access to stream live local CBS feeds, 9,000 episodes of current and previous shows, and exclusives to the platform including Star Trek: Discovery with limited commercial interruptions. High rollers who want to enjoy the growing library of content without ad breaks pay $9.99 a month, matching Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX) pricing. It's not the only way that CBS is aiming at the premium streaming realm's top dog. 

The final frontier

CBS is going about this in brilliant fashion. The second episode premiered yesterday exclusively on CBS All Access, immediately after the first show aired. That's all that subscribers can get, for now. Unlike Netflix where folks can binge a new season in a single binge session, CBS will offer up subsequent episodes in weekly installments. Just like an old-school network, it will take a two-month break in early November, returning in early January according to IMDB for the final eight installments of the 15-episode season.

In short, CBS All Access is hoping to hook sci-fi fans for several months with a single show. It's not the way that Netflix does it, but Reed Hastings has the luxury of throwing billions a year at content to keep the pipeline gushing. When CBS has a hit or a potential hit on its hands -- the way that Hulu did with its Emmy-snagging The Handmaid's Tale  -- why wouldn't it milk it? 

CBS has between 1 million and 2 million subscribers, and its goal is to hit 4 million accounts by 2020. Netflix fans will scoff at those milestones as it was entertaining nearly 104 million streaming subscribers worldwide by the end of June, but it's fair to say that CBS' goal may prove conservative if Star Trek: Discovery resonated with viewers last night.

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CBS -- like Hulu -- also offers discounted annual pricing packages. The $5.99-a-month limited commercials plan is just $59.99 a year, and the commercial-free platform is $99.99 a year. If getting a dozen months for the price of 10 for those willing to prepay is tempting, Star Trek: Discovery will be the gift that keeps on giving long after the first season comes to an end in mid-February. 

CBS All Access may seem to be taking a page out of the Hulu playbook instead of Netflix's road map, but it's hard to argue with the logic. It took a dozen years for CBS to put out a new Star Trek series, but the stakes are so high when it comes to premium digital streaming that it can't merely set its phasers on stun. 

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.