CBS’s Kobayashi Maru Tests

I’ve been watching what CBS/Paramount has been doing of late in regards to the Star Trek franchise, and I have to wonder as a fan whether they actually have the franchise’s best interests in mind or whether they’re merely bumbling about in shock amidst an industry which has metamorphosed around them so rapidly their heads are still spinning.

I have to wonder whether CBS gave their lawsuit against Axanar much consideration prior to filing it, and I don’t think they gave much thought to how the issue could become a Pandora’s Box if they vanquish the crowd-funded fan-film set between the events of Star Trek: Enterprise and the original Star Trek series.

If CBS wins, there’s every possibility they’ll be mired in court cases for the next decade following up on every other fan-made Star Trek production out there — there’s more than a few major ones, and thousands of minor ones, encompassing every type and shape of media (and I’m sure Rule 34 applies here as well). If they don’t follow through after a court victory, Axanar will probably come back in some form or another, under a different group, maybe with a different name and production company. Should the momentum and popularity of Axanar continue after a CBS win, there’s really no stopping it and other productions like it without a thorough follow-through. CBS will have to massacre the entire Star Trek fan-verse to properly prevent that, given they’ve stood by and watched fan films and series be funded and put into production — many with the same qualities CBS now faults Axanar for — for almost twenty years. If we were to list out and describe the similarities of some of these fan-made productions have to Axanar we’d be here all month.

If CBS loses in court it’s entirely possible they’ll have an uphill battle overcoming future intellectual property conflicts, despite American IP laws being so heavily corporation-biased. Again, I think their long history of tolerating fan-made productions will play a role here.

After a fashion, Paramount has already lost this particular battle. The Road to Axanar, an in-universe mockumentary about the events which the Axanar fan-film intends to portray, is already out in the wild and the actual Axanar feature film is nearly finished. The Axanar production company has distributed thousands of copies of the mocumentary and it won’t take long for the film itself to surface in some form; in this age of information availability once content gets out into the wild, cease-and-desist take-down orders are as effective as screaming to be heard over a warp core breach.

It’s a no-win scenario, not for CBS, not for the fans, not for anyone. CBS has effectively created its own Kobayashi Maru test, though I have no doubt this irony is thoroughly lost on their executive and legal teams.

These same corporate entities haven’t the foggiest idea why this lawsuit is so controversial: they’ve committed the cardinal sin of spitting in the face of the very people who’ve kept the Trek franchise alive and kicking and bringing in new initiates, while the “property owners” allowed the franchise to languish for years before the Abramsverse films. The core fanbase has kept the franchise going, albeit on life support at times, for a number of years. Fans are even responsible for making the Abramsverse films viable despite their mediocre reception with some segments of the hardcore Trek fanbase.

Either way, win or lose, CBS’s lawsuit against Axanar will have done irreversible damage to their reputation with fans and to the franchise properties they claim to be protecting. They’ve already successfully angered and probably alienated a significant segment of the core Trek fanbase with this lawsuit — a demographic absolutely crucial to the success of the upcoming limited-release Trek series, being only available via a CBS’s pale attempt at an on-demand streaming service. 

In addition to the Axanar debacle, CBS also seems to be nearly blind to the direction their own industry is moving in, and have underestimated the influence which fandoms themselves can have— having apparently missed the Great BBC Doctor Who Fandom Backlash of 2016* — and like the BBC, seems to be tone-deaf to the clear message which media consumers have been sending for a number of years now: “give us the content we want through our preferred media consumption hubs (TV/cable/on-demand, Netflix, Amazon Prime and sometimes Hulu) for a reasonable price without hassle and we’re willing to pay for it. Otherwise, there’s always The Pirate Bay.

This oversight isn’t unique to CBS or the BBC, it’s been tried by other would-be Netflix/Amazon competitors — WalMart, Blockbuster, Moviebeams, Akimbo.

Some companies eventually got the picture and moved away from trying to be streaming service providers themselves, and now use apps for their set-top devices to facilitate Netflix/Amazon/Hulu streaming while offering digital downloads as secondary services (iTunes/XBox movie purchases, etc), but the others have gone the way of ignominy. The odds are against CBS’s proprietary streaming service fairing any better.

Like it or not Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are the new “Big Three networks.” They are to the twenty-first century what ABC, CBS, and NBC were to the twentieth. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu reach more people and are more commonly found in households than individual network subscriptions separate from traditional cable (hell, even traditional cable is slowly seeing the light). People will be more likely to watch if they can turn on their cable box, their PlayStation, their AppleTV, or their XBox and fire up Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.

The average viewer has a cable/satellite subscription, a Netflix account, an Amazon Prime account, a Hulu account — or a combination of the four. They don’t want the hassle of managing yet another subscription service if they don’t have to, and they’re less likely to go out of their way for another smaller subscription-based service if their others more or less cover their wants and needs. I personally have Comcast, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, and unless a new service is an absolute Netflix-killer or Comcast-killer, as in it’s capable of completely replacing at least two of my three current subscriptions for a comparable cost, I personally don’t think I’d have any interest in adding to or replacing anything on that list, regardless of the content.

These mistakes on the part of CBS, the Axanar lawsuit and the narrow-availability of an attempted series revival and how both eventually play out, will likely be determining factors for the success of a Trek series revival, and may even affect lasting interest in further Abramsverse Trek films. Star Trek exists on both the big and the small screen, and franchise success ideally includes a healthy dose of both.

Regardless of the outcome of the Axanar suit, CBS/Paramount will have a lot of work to do winning back the goodwill of Trek fans — hey CBS, here’s a hint: maybe that new Trek series could be produced in conjunction with Netflix or Amazon and stick it on the CW network too. I mean, if you’re going to produce a series, you want people to actually watch it, right? At least nobody would be able to fault you for not trying to get it out in front of as many faces as possible.

And while you’re at it, stop wasting time and money on this silly Axanar suit. That cat’s already out of the bag, and your only response at this point should be “Hey good on those Axanar folks for showing that Star Trek can-do spirit!” Let’s face it CBS, Axanar is what you should have done and didn’t so someone else did, and you’ve already all but admitted you’re really not missing out on much. Cut your meager losses — and by that I mean your wounded pride — and get over it.

Whatever you do CBS, don’t dive into a Kobayashi Maru situation head first. Take a few steps back and consider whether you actually have a winning strategy before you get yourselves into a no-win scenario, because if you lose so does the Trek fandom.

Prelude to Axanar can be seen on YouTube.

If you’d care to read CBS’s entire roll of baloney, it can be found here.

  • - the BBC is rumored to be backpedaling their announcement regarding removing Doctor Who from both Netflix and Amazon Prime in North America, leaving the only North American access to the series through their proprietary streaming service, and the popular rumor is that Doctor Who will be returning to Amazon Prime sometime in 2016
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