New Streaming Services Are Changing TV — And Viewers, Too

Jan 11, 2015
Originally published on January 19, 2015 4:49 pm

When critics asked Tina Fey how her new series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would be different now that it's airing on Netflix instead of NBC, she had quite the zinger ready.

"I think season two's gonna mostly be shower sex," Fey said during a press conference last week, drawing laughs. But she also had a point.

Fey's first series since 30 Rock was developed for her longtime TV home, NBC.

But when the network couldn't figure out when to air it, they cut a deal to move it to the video streaming service Netflix. There, the show has no official language restrictions, no content restrictions and no timeslots for episodes.

"We can make a show work on its own merits," says Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, who said some network TV shows fail because they are judged by ratings during a specific hour on a specific day of the week.

"If it would have gone the NBC route, it would have been, 'I didn't know what night it was on, it got pre-empted by a football game' — all the different things that keep people from having that deep relationship with programming that they used to have," he said.

Fey's last show, 30 Rock, often suffered from not drawing a broad enough audience for network TV — a problem that has hobbled other quality NBC comedies such as Parks and Recreation and Community.

But ask if platforms like Netflix might offer a better home for smart TV comedy — Yahoo! will make new episodes of NBC's canceled Community soon — and Fey's not quite willing to go there yet.

"I think the future is a mix," she said. "People still have that communal feeling when the next season of Orange is the New Black goes up. And they do want to talk about it, they do want to email about it and they do want to talk about it at work. So you still have the communal feeling of, like, 'Oh we want to see this and talk about it right now.' But its just not literally at that specific hour of the night."

In fact, there are several new streaming services coming in 2015 to give viewers more control. HBO and CBS have announced services, but DISH Network got a lot of attention at the consumer electronics show by unveiling its Sling TV, mostly for one reason: ESPN.

ESPN and ESPN 2 are among a slimmed-down package of channels offered by Sling TV online 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 TV.

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, yet don't buy cable TV.

"We see it as being supplemental," he said. "It's going to be additive in a way to serve a market that's been underserved."

It's also a soft way of offering a form of a la carte programming. Critics have complained for many years that cable bills are too high and consumers should be able to pay a smaller price and pick a smaller lineup of channels that match their taste.

Erik Flannigan, an executive vice president at Viacom Entertainment Group, calls Sling TV "a la carte on the margins," noting that cable and satellite providers need to find ways to reach audiences where and how they want to watch television.

He says viewers have grown to expect access to TV shows when they want, where they want, thanks to the digital video recorder.

"The DVR was the first thing that put you off the clock and on your own schedule," Flannigan said. Essentially watching shows when you wanted to watch them, binge view them when you wanted to watch them. then you throw the steaming services onto that and you start to get all these, what are now new behaviors."

Flannigan 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 smartphones.

Flannigan says a service like Sling might help DISH hold onto customers who might otherwise "cut the cord" and drop their subscriptions — either because they want lower payments or they watch TV differently.

"I tend to, at this moment, pull out my phone and [consider] people for whom this is their first screen not their second screen," he says. "I think having some answer to those folks is something we need to do."

Netflix content chief Sarandos says their data shows people watch TV differently when they use their service.

"Everything that's watched on Netflix is watched super deliberately," he adds. "It's not background noise. It's not something you turn on and go off and eat dinner. And [its] watching the same show until you're done. This is much closer to books, where people say 'I'm going to start Breaking Bad tonight.'"

At a time when everyone in the TV industry is trying to guess what the future holds, it seems that technology and services which meet viewers' new "on- demand attitudes" is the surest way to success.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPORTSCENTER")

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.