RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Pretty soon sports fans won't need a cable or satellite subscription to watch the big game on ESPN. That's thanks to a new streaming service from Dish Network called Sling TV. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says platforms like this are redefining the industry and how we watch television.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Tina Fey is coming back to series TV for the first time since her show "30 Rock" ended in 2013. And she's already got an idea for how her new show will be different now that it's airing on Netflix instead of NBC.
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TINA FEY: I think season 2 is going to be mostly shower sex.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes.
DEGGANS: She was cracking jokes at a press conference for TV critics, but she also had a point. Fey's new show, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," was developed for NBC, but when the network couldn't find a good time slot, they cut a deal to move it to the streaming service Netflix. There, the show has no official language restrictions, no content restrictions and no timeslots.
TED SARANDOS: We can make a show work on its own merits.
DEGGANS: That's Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix.
SARANDOS: If it would've gone the NBC route, it would've been, you know, I didn't know what night it was on. It got preempted by a football game. It was all the different things where - that keep people from having that deep relationship with programming that they used to have.
DEGGANS: Ask if this new way of watching TV comedy will obliterate the broadcast networks, though, and Fey is not quite ready to go there yet.
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FEY: I think the future is a mix. People still have the communal feeling when the next season of "Orange Is The New Black" goes up. And they do want to talk about it. They want to email about it. They want to talk about it at work. So you still have the communal feeling of, like, oh, we all want to see this and talk about it right now. But it's just not literally at that specific hour of the night.
DEGGANS: In fact there's several new streaming services coming in 2015 to give viewers more control. HBO and CBS have announced services, but Dish Network's got a lot of attention at the Consumer Electronic Show by unveiling its Sling TV. Mostly for this reason...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is SportsCenter.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We are just two days away from...
DEGGANS: ESPN and ESPN2 are among a slimmed-down package of channels offered by Sling TV for a $20 monthly subscription. It will be the first time viewers can stream ESPN channels without paying for a cable subscription - a development that hints at a future without cable television. But James Rollins, vice president of digital distribution for ESPN said during a press conference that Sling TV was mostly a way to target people who have broadband internet service but don't buy cable television.
JAMES ROLLINS: We see it as being kind of supplemental. It's going to be additive, in a way, to serve a market that's been underserved, be that bridge into higher tiers of service.
ERIK FLANAGAN: If you're not getting to those audiences where they want to be watching and where they want to be shifting their time, you are leaving them behind.
DEGGANS: Erik Flanagan is an executive vice president at Viacom Entertainment Group. He says viewers have grown to expect access to TV shows when they want, where they want, thanks to the digital video recorder.
FLANAGAN: The DVR was the first thing that put you off the clock and on your own schedule and essentially watching shows when you wanted to watch them, binge view them when you wanted to watch them. Then you throw the streaming services onto that, you start to get all these what are now new behaviors.
DEGGANS: Flanagan works on TV Everywhere. It's an effort by the cable industry to give subscribers access to their channels over the Internet on laptops, tablets and smart phones. Flanagan says a service like Sling might help Dish hold on to customers who would otherwise cut the cord and drop their subscriptions either because they want lower payments or because they watch TV differently.
FLANAGAN: I tend, at this moment, to pull out my phone, and say people for whom this is their first screen, not their second screen, I think having some answer to those folks is something we need to do.
DEGGANS: Netflix content chief Sarandos says their data shows people watch TV differently when they use their service.
SARANDOS: Everything that's watched on Netflix is watched super deliberately. It's not background noise. It's not just, you know, something you turn on and you go off and eat dinner and watching the same show until you're done. This is much closer to books where people are really saying, oh, I'm going to start "Breaking Bad" tonight.
DEGGANS: At a time when everyone in the TV industry is trying to guess what the future holds, it seems that technology and services that meet viewers new on demand attitudes are the surest ways to success. I'm Eric Deggans.
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