Could a new advertising program be used to bring Star Trek back to TV?


A new advertising program has increased both the episode length and production budget of the upcoming second season of The Orville, could such a program be used by CBS to negate the need for all access subscriptions?

In a recent interview with USA Today Seth MacFarlane, creator, star and executive producer of the Star Trek inspired comedy series The Orville  explained that a new experimental advertising model being tested on several shows, including the second season of his show, is allowing for an increase of about seven to eight minutes per episode, as well as increased budgets for each episode.

"“We’re part of this new, experimental program that creates a different balance between ad time and programming time, so the episodes are about seven or eight minutes longer than last year (which) allows you to let things breathe in a way that streaming shows are able to do. … That’s been a big boon for our storytelling process.”– Seth MacFarlane, via. USA Today."

The Orville was reported to have a per episode budget of $7 million, while Star Trek Discovery is reported around $8 million per episode.

It certainly appears to be a program stakeholders from other networks will need to pay close attention to, while streaming shows have been allowed to play fast and loose with their run times due to the nature of their platform,  regular television shows are typically required to produce 44 minutes per hour.  Star Trek: Discovery season one varied from 38 to 49 minutes per episode, with most clocking in around 47 minutes.

An increase in runtime for a network series is practically unheard of these days as the advertising model hasn’t been altered outside of premium channels in decades. The studios have begun to take notice of the power of streaming, both in potential global reach as well as alternate revenue streams which would theoretically lead to fewer options for advertisers to get customer eyeballs.

For advertisers to take steps towards increasing revenues while presumably decreasing advertising minutes we may be witnessing a shift in the industry in the making, advertisers seem to have come to the table to try to bail out the traditional television market in a way I don’t recall seeing their counterparts reacting to other disrupted industries. Does anyone remember seeing newspapers with less advertising towards the end of their dominance? My recollection is that there was more advertising than ever as the industry tried, and failed to increase revenues.

So what does this have to do with Star Trek?

Despite opinions to the contrary the folks over at CBS are no fools, they’ve seen the writing on the wall, we, the consumer are no longer interested in consuming their content as they feel like dishing it out, like recording a program only to find out another more pressing matter caused it to run late or be joined in progress, we demand a higher standard. We demand it because we know it’s an option. We demand it because streaming technology offers it to us.

With this in mind CBS set out to save its skin the only way they thought it could, create a platform to deliver their content in a way consumers want to consume it, and so All-Access was born. Unfortunately for them creating the platform isn’t enough, just because you build it doesn’t mean we’ll come.

So let’s say you’re a venerable TV network with a solid back catalogue of lucrative properties, and one of those properties just so happens to have one of the most, if not the most dedicated and starved fan followings our fair planet has ever seen, and the writing on the wall tells you that if you’re to survive you need people to follow you down the road a little, what do you do?

You build out one franchise with another. It would be irresponsible not to. (Though it is debatable why you wouldn’t later air the popular franchise on your network)

But if this ‘new program’ proves fruitful?

If this new advertising model is able to sustain a series pushing above the $7 million per episode mark, why not adopt it to salvage your network business? Especially if you know you’ve angered, and even alienated many fans through this move to streaming.

If the new model works we should expect to see a return to television for several streaming exclusives, including Star Trek, even if only as a second run offering.

One thing is for sure, a lot of eyes will be on The Orville and it’s ads. But only time will tell what will become of this new advertising model and if it will lead to a return to television for our beloved franchise.