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ViacomCBS Consumer Products, Inc., formerly CBS Consumer Products, Inc. until 2020, is the licensing and merchandising unit of ViacomCBS which manages the licensing of products stemming from the various motion pictures productions owned by the formerly independant CBS Corporation and Viacom corporations. This company controls the licensing to produce all Star Trek related home media formats, print formats, games, toys, clothing, and any and all other merchandise. In essence the unit serves as the legal custodian for the entire Star Trek franchise, excepting the actual production and sales to cinemas/broadcasters of the live-action productions themselves, which are the purview of its mother/sister companies and Paramount Pictures, reintegrated in the conglomerate as of 2019.

The company also collaborated with Mad Science to develop Star Trek Live, an interactive stage show which opened in 2010 and continues to tour today. Star Trek The Exhibition was also co-produced by the company, whereas other Star Trek exhibits and attractions are licensed, meticuously monitored, and closely scrutinized by the department. Products branded with the CBS Consumer Products name have also been released by The Bradford Exchange, The Hamilton Collection, Hammacher Schlemmer, and ThinkGeek, among others.

The unit also doubles as an archive for the Star Trek merchandise they have licensed – some of which actually turning up in various live-action productions such as, aside from Star Trek proper, The Big Bang Theory – as well as serving as a repository for the surviving original live-action production documents, art and other assets (such as uniform, props and studio models) that have been created throughout the history of the franchise, thereby functioning as a reference source for authors of licensed reference works. (source) However, a considerable amount of the production assets has been sold off in the 2006-2008 wave of Star Trek auctions in the wake of the franchise's decision to liquidate most of its Star Trek holdings, (see: main article) greatly diminishing the value of the department as a relevant franchise production archive. The department has retained a fraction of their once extensive production asset holdings, for continuing exhibition purposes – though it means that the same assets are continuously presented over and over again in what exhibitions are still being organized, especially where the pre-Kurtzman-era Star Trek productions are concerned.

All remastering projects of the Star Trek television series and movies were initiated by, and have fallen under the auspices of the department, and the home media formats thereof are currently distributed under the heading "CBS Home Entertainment".

Origins

As far as Star Trek was concerned, the unit was established in 1967, while Star Trek: The Original Series was in production, as part of Paramount Pictures, which encompassed the newly formed Paramount Television department, itself formed out of the former Desilu Studios and Paramount's own, rather small and hitherto relatively insignificant television department. Their marketing unit, into which "Desilu Publicity" – until then headed by Howard McClay and Frank Wright – was absorbed, became known as the "Paramount Publicity Department" with Wright being retained as department head. It were they who, aside from handling the legalities surrounding contemporary Star Trek merchandise, provided author Stephen Edward Poe with the illustrative material for the first Star Trek reference book, The Making of Star Trek. Poe had already professional dealings with both iterations of the department, as he was the account manager for model kit company AMT – one of the very first outside companies to acquire an official franchise license, if not the very first, as they had already received theirs on 1 August 1966 before the series had even premiered over a month later – in regard to their Star Trek model kit line. (p. 15)

A major non-commercial decision – at least where Star Trek was concerned – the department made in the intervening years, was their 1974 gifting of the original 11-foot Enterprise studio model to the Smithsonian Institution as worded in a letter by then Paramount Executive Dick Lawrence, "I am pleased to advise you that Paramount Television will donate the fourteen-foot [sic] model of Star Trek's Enterprise to the Smithsonian Institution. It is my understanding that F.C. Durant III, assistant director of Astronautics of the Smithsonian Institution, in a letter dated December 17, 1973 to Mr. Frank Wright of our publicity department, has agreed to pay the cost of crating and shipping" (which was estimated at US$350-$500 at the time) (Star Trek Giant Poster Book, issue 10, 1977)

Nonetheless and the free publicity this act had netted the studio notwithstanding, Poe has stated in later years, drawing upon his personal experiences with the department, "Desilu [and its successor] treated the whole idea of Star Trek licensing and merchandising with immense disdain. It was as if studio executives felt greatly annoyed at having to even discuss the subject at all(...)–some sort of corporate aberration–and licensed merchandise emerged only slowly and with, apparently, great reluctance." (A Vision of the Future - Star Trek: Voyager, pp. 45-46) Unsurprisingly therefore, merchandising and licensing remained a rather passive and haphazard affair until 1979. Interested parties had to approach the department with proposals, which the department's involvement somewhat limited to either agreeing to them or not, and drawing up contracts. How lackluster the performance of the department was in this period of time, was amply demonstrated when toy manufacturer Mego approached the department in 1974 for a Star Trek toy license. The company managed to secure a lump-sum license deal for a mere US$5,000. Mego's Star Trek toy-line eventually grossed the company US$50 million in less than five years, much to the glee of its then CEO Marty Abrams who in later life gloated, "You can imagine the joy we had on that one!" (The Toys That Made Us)

Becoming professional

However, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was in production (for whose immediate predecessor Star Trek: Phase II Paramount ironically had unsuccessfully tried to loan back the Enterprise model), the department, now recently renamed to "Paramount Marketing and Licensing Department" (covering both the television as well as the movie properties of the studio) made a quantum leap forward in professionalism.

Star Trek The Motion Picture beverage containers by Coca-Cola.jpg Happy Meals endorsed by a Klingon in a 1980 McDonalds commercial.jpg CBS Consumer Products Global License cover.jpg
Paramount's first food products tie-in promotion; Coca-Cola beverage containers on the left, and a still from a McDonald's commercial on the right.
Star Trek Into Darkness on the cover of License! Global magazine

The leap forward was necessitated by the February 1979 visual effects crisis during the movie's production, and responsible for the leap was the department's newly appointed Vice-president Dawn Steel. Steel was charged with creating another revenue stream to help cover the ballooning production costs. She did so by organizing a vigorous merchandising and licensing fund drive, which climaxed in a highly imaginative presentation, held in the largest theater on the Paramount lot. A resounding success, the presentation was met with rambunctious enthusiasm by the attending prospective licensee companies. "It was the most unbelievable party Paramount ever had.", attending studio producer, Brian Grazer, remembered, to which then novice studio producer Jerry Bruckheimer has admiringly added, "She went to conventions and got every toy-maker, anyone who made T-shirts and key chains and raised every nickel she could. She shook the trees. There hasn't been that energy vortex in merchandise since she left.". Numerous companies signed up, including, at the time, unusual ones such as food industry corporations like Coca-Cola and McDonald's. The presentation marked the first time for Paramount that licensing revenues were generated, before a production had premiered. Concurrently, parent company Gulf+Western had commissioned the development of an accompanying, The Motion Picture-themed, book line through subsidiary Pocket Books and its imprints, which it had acquired in 1975 – and therefore a sister company of Paramount Pictures. (New York Magazine, 29 May 1989, p. 45; 6 September 1993, p. 40)

From here on end merchandising and licensing became an integral part of a proactive overall marketing strategy, further refined and vastly enhanced in the subsequent years, already under Steel's immediate department successor, Frank Mancuso, Sr. (Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History, pp. 108-109)

see for further details: Star Trek franchise

When Paramount Pictures was acquired by the original Viacom holding corporation in 1994, its Marketing and Licensing Department was subsequently absorbed into theirs, and rechristened as "Viacom Consumer Products". (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, issue (B02), p. 14)

Switching owners and the Star Trek franchise split

CBS Consumer Products logo

A somewhat ambiguous situation arose in late 2005, when the original Viacom conglomerate was split up into two independent corporations, the television conglomerate CBS Corporation (which essentially constituted the former Viacom) and a motion picture corporation, which, a bit confusingly perhaps, was called (new) Viacom and of which Paramount Pictures, which lost its television division and the Star Trek franchise as a whole in the process, was now a part. The split was formalized in January 2006. CBS has licensed the right to produce Star Trek films to Paramount Pictures, but what was now CBS Consumer Products remained the sole entity responsible for the marketing and licensing of the Star Trek product line for both the television as well as the film properties, instead of farming it out to Paramount's own, newly formed Paramount Licensing, Inc. division, [1] which was now entirely cut out of the loop, excepting the home video format releases of the first ten Star Trek films – but not the other merchandise derived from these.

It was on the occasion of the split that CBS Consumer Products was formed, and from start to date, the executive most intimately involved with managing the licensing of Star Trek merchandise was its Vice President, Product Development, John Van Citters, aided by Risa Kessler where the print franchise was concerned. Over time he has de facto become the Star Trek face of the department, only reinforced by his December 2018 promotion to "Vice President Star Trek Brand Management at CBS Studios, Global Franchise Management", after the live-action television franchise was revitalized with the advent of Star Trek: Discovery. [2] Another executive of note – with even stronger Star Trek ties – had been prolific Star Trek author Paula Block who ultimately served as the department's Senior Director of Licensing in the period 1989-2009, like Citters, throwing in her lot with CBS when it was split off from Paramount.

Reuniting the Star Trek film and television franchises

On 6 May 2019, the "Star Trek Global Franchise Management" unit, to which Veronica Hart was added as Executive Vice President, became formally established and based out of Alex Kurtzman's Secret Hideout premises, as the unit was also intended to coordinate both the television and film franchises, [3] at that point in time yet to be "reunified", but seven months later realized on 4 December 2019. [4] Fan rumors had already abounded about Kurtzman's deep involvement with everything Star Trek ever since he signed his television development deals with CBS Studios in 2016 and 2018, but the exact details and nature of these remained shrouded in mystery. It was with the 2019 announcement that a first official confirmation was provided on how profound Kurtzman's involvement actually was with the Star Trek phenomenon, as "content development plans" (including both live-action productions as well as their related merchandising) were to be developed "under the stewardship of Alex Kurtzman". The establishment of the unit entailed that CBS Consumer Products – renamed ViacomCBS Consumer Products pursuant the December 2019 reunification into which Paramount Licensing, Inc. was absorbed, and thus essentially the resurrection of the original Viacom Consumer Products – where Star Trek is concerned, was effectively subordinated under Kurtzman, as was Van Citters for that matter.

Overview

A fan's display of licensed Star Trek collectibles

To Star Trek fans and collectors the licensing policies of the department have on occasion been, and remain to this very day, incomprehensible and frustrating, especially in regard to the division's "market discrimination" policies when a product is officially and legally available in one territory or to a selected group of customers only, but not in/to another, which can cause fans to feel alienated from the franchise. Examples include the European Original Series VHS releases, the Star Trek Fact Files, the first and second "VAM controversies", The Trek Not Taken special feature (a grievous example of the so-called "retailer exclusive" format, particularly loathed by Star Trek collectors [5]), as well as various other consumer products such as those only licensed to Japanese companies or to the model kit company Revell-Monogram. VAM producer and fan Robert Meyer Burnett became one of the Star Trek alumni who publicly voiced his befuddlement and frustration at these in his eyes murky and waffling department policies (which included his own as retailer exclusive released The Trek Not Taken special feature) in a February 2017 Word Balloon podcast interview (currently posted on YouTube), and where he also related the lengths he had to go through to get his hands on a copy of the Europe-only Revell modelkit of the alternate reality Enterprise.

While Poe's obeservation of the franchise's early lackluster attitude towards merchandising and licensing was eventually resolved for the home market with The Motion Picture, the equally lackluster attitude towards foreign merchandising and licensing was far more persistent, enduring well into the 21st century. This was due to the generations-long held American preconception of viewing America's East, and West coasts as the end of the world. As a result, for decades the franchise considered foreign markets, the UK included, as insignificant – sometimes even "freak" (as per Larry Nemecek) – sideshows, focusing all their engergies on the home market (into which Canada – but not Mexico – was lumped, more or less as an afterthought) only, vastly underestimating the success Star Trek had outside North-America as well. This was not only harmful to foreign Star Trek fans, having to endure all kinds of market discrimination for decades, but also to the franchise itself in a financial sense, losing out on opportunties not realized – which in turn could be harmful to homegrown fans such as in the above-cited examples. Nemecek for example, has also explained how print franchise publisher Pocket Books was offered the opportunity to get involved in the aforementiond British Fact Files project in one format or another on the home market, but who declined, erroneously believing it a mere simple rehashing of their own Star Trek Encyclopedia, which also resulted in the partwork to become formally prohibited for sale in North-America. How wrong Pocket Books was in its assessment became apparent when, according to Nemecek, the Fact Files license fees turned out to be the franchise's third-biggest moneymaker for Paramount in the late 1990s – which was a remarkable feat as it achieved this without the home market. [6]

Nemecek incidentally, was a major Fact Files writer/consultant/researcher, whose primary task it had been to scour the department archives for assets for the Britsh publication, in a sense following in the footsteps of Stephen Edward Poe. And it was Nemecek who discovered much to his and the licensee's dismay that the department was not above promising foreign licensees assets that either did not exist, and/or simply was not even in their possession at all, providing proof positive of the languid and dismissive attitude the franchise had towards foreign markets. (source; YouTube)

An even more grievous example occured during the time period directly following the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise. Disgusted with the poor performance of the franchise on the home market at the time, CBS management decided to liquidate many franchise elements in the period 2005-2009, which included foreign assets alongside the home market assets. What management of new franchise owner CBS (where not a single executive had any hands-on Star Trek experience, courtesy "The Purge" of Star Trek hater Les Moonves, who had personally cancelled Enterprise incidentally) failed – or refused – to realize at the time was that Star Trek was still doing very well abroad, especially in Europe, where the franchise enjoyed a resurgence thanks to a syndication boom. Nevertheless, it did not prevent franchise management to terminate several profitable foreign Star Trek initiatives as well, among others several successfull German and Italian magazines. (see: Demise of "The Franchise" in the prime universe) It was not until 2013 that the franchise fully realized that ignoring foreign markets came at their own detriment, when Star Trek Into Darkness outgrossed the home market in foreign markets at the box-office. It was only since then, that the department started to treat foreign markets with more zeal and with the same respect as the home market.

A chronological recap of the department where Star Trek is concerned, yields the following,

  • 1966–1967: Desilu Publicity
  • 1967–1975: Paramount Publicity Department
  • 1976–1993: Paramount Marketing and Licensing Department
  • 1994–2005: Viacom Consumer Products
  • 2006–2019: CBS Consumer Products
  • 2020–pres.: Star Trek Global Franchise Management ⬅ ViacomCBS Consumer Products

See also

External links

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