'Star Trek' and streaming: How CBS is betting big on a sci-fi classic

CBS has decided that streaming video is the new frontier.

The company's production studio announced Monday the debut of a new “Star Trek” series in January 2017, under the oversight of “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” co-screenwriter Alex Kurtzman.

The franchise has been missing from small screens since the conclusion of “Star Trek: Enterprise” in May 2005. But after the premiere episode, U.S. viewers will only be able to watch the new series on CBS All Access, the subscription streaming video service launched last year.

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Though younger audiences may be more familiar with “Star Trek” as a film franchise, the series first debuted in on NBC in 1966 and ran for three low-rated seasons before getting canceled. However, the show developed a cult audience that only grew and eventually spawned four other live-action series and one animated show combining to air over 700 new episodes between 1966 and 2005.

The decision to make episodes of “Star Trek” exclusively available on All Access is a major commitment to bolstering the streaming service.

Streaming video giant Netflix has shown that critically acclaimed exclusive programs such as “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” can drive rapid growth in subscribers.

A franchise such as “Star Trek” that has one of the most rabid followings in all of pop culture will immediately drive new users to the service.

CBS has pointed to the service, which provides live streaming of its station and affiliate broadcast signals and on demand access to a large array of library, as a growth business. The company never released subscriber figures, but industry estimates put it well under 1 million.

The service, which charges subscribers $5.99 a month, does not give viewers access to the network’s National Football League coverage, which is the highest rated programming on CBS.

While producing a new “Star Trek” appears to be an expensive way to boost a nascent video streaming service, CBS will reap plenty of revenue from selling the series to overseas broadcasters and cable networks that will show it on conventional TV. “Star Trek” is a globally recognized title that will likely have plenty of takers even without a pilot.

CBS will also be able to sell the international streaming rights to Netflix, Amazon or other outlets since All Access is only available in the U.S.

There are no details on where the new series will fit within the greater Star Trek universe.

CBS has stated that the new series will not be related to “Star Trek Beyond,” the latest “Star Trek” film that's scheduled to be released in summer 2016, but that doesn’t lend any insight as to what time the series might be placed within the universe itself.

But President of CBS Television Studios David Stapf said in a statement that having Kurtzman at the helm will satisfy fans and maintain the standards for the franchise.

“Everyone here has great respect for this storied franchise, and we’re excited to launch its next television chapter in the creative mind and skilled hands of Alex Kurtzman, someone who knows this world and its audience intimately,” Stapf said.

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