CBS’s streaming offshoot is becoming a necessity for sci-fi nerds

CBS All Access hopes to “discover” more subscribers with its nerdy programming.
CBS All Access hopes to “discover” more subscribers with its nerdy programming.
Image: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP
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I’ve held out for this long, CBS, but I think I may just have to subscribe to All Access now.

The network announced yesterday (Jan. 30) that it’s adapting Stephen King’s epic post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, The Stand, into a TV miniseries for its standalone streaming platform, CBS All Access. Published in 1978, The Stand tells an expansive tale of good and evil that takes place after a plague has wiped out most of civilization. The story was previously adapted into a miniseries on ABC in 1994, but King fans weren’t thrilled with the result. Efforts to re-adapt The Stand to the screen had been underway since at least 2011.

The Stand, a fantasy odyssey with some elements of sci-fi, fits snugly into the existing and planned programming on CBS All Access. After launching in 2014, the streaming platform’s first original scripted series was the Star Trek prequel series, Star Trek: Discovery. The network has since announced that two more Star Trek spin-offs are in the works: one in which Patrick Stewart will reprise his legendary role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and another starring Crazy Rich Asians star Michelle Yeoh.

It wasn’t enough for CBS All Access to be the new home for all things Star Trek. The streaming service will also debut Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone on April 1, resurrecting one of the greatest science fiction shows ever. Though it’s only a few years old, CBS All Access is making a huge pitch specifically to sci-fi and fantasy nerds: You need us. We are indispensable. Subscribe.

It’s a smart play in this era of “peak TV,” when networks are eager to distinguish themselves and lock in loyal viewers. Since it’s still a relatively new streaming platform, with so few shows (only five dramas and one comedy so far), CBS has clearly decided to go all in on nerdy programming. So far, the platform is, essentially, a sci-fi streaming service—plus The Good Wife spin-off The Good Fight, which is not science fiction but still caters to a certain type of nerddom (legal nerds and Christine Baranski super fans).

Netflix is (or wants to be) a one-stop shop for every type of viewer, serving all genres. HBO is the “king of content,” carefully curating a selection from various categories of prestigious TV (though that may change under its new corporate owners AT&T). While CBS and other American broadcast TV networks have traditionally competed for a primetime everyman audience, CBS All Access has so far carved out a select niche, not totally unlike the horror platform channel Shudder.

Instead of trying to have something for everyone, CBS is framing itself as a must-have for genre acolytes, betting that they will pony up the $5.99 per month ($9.99 for ad-free) alongside their payments for Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and Amazon.

That pitch appears to be working. CBS All Access grew 50% last year in total subscribers, total streams delivered, and the amount of time viewers used the platform, CBS Interactive president Marc DeBevoise said yesterday at the Television Critics Association, Variety reported. (The network did not disclose how many subscribers it currently has, although as of August it had 2.5 million.) Crucially, 63% of subscribers are in the all-important 18-49 age demographic, proving that the service skews toward a younger audience.

While it’s still available only in the US, Canada, and Australia, CBS chief creative officer David Nevins hinted recently that the service could expand into more countries. Compared to Netflix, CBS’s streaming platform is but a blip on the radar of streaming entertainment. But if it keeps adding properties like Star Trek, The Stand, and The Twilight Zone to its portfolio, that could soon change.