Dish is launching a new service today called Sling TV that will make live cable TV available in a subscription-based package for over-the-top viewing. The service, which will cost just $20 a month, is designed to appeal to the throngs of broadband users who for whatever reason don’t want to pay for a big cable package.
Twenty years ago, Charlie Ergen took on the cable industry with the launch of his first satellite to beam a bundle of channels into the homes of consumers who either didn’t want or couldn’t get cable. That spawned the introduction of Dish Network and the broader satellite TV industry as an alternative to the terrestrial cable providers.
Now it’s two decades later and there’s a whole new group of people who don’t subscribe to cable that Dish thinks it can serve. These so-called cord cutters have spent the last few years getting their video fix from a patchwork of subscription-based video services and free, ad-supported content.
But there are two things those consumers have largely been missing out on: The first is pay TV programming from networks like ESPN, Disney Channel, TBS, and TNT, which has mostly been tied up due to rights with the cable and satellite providers. And even if you could get programming from those networks, most of it was on-demand and delayed, meaning users couldn’t watch shows at the same time as those who were watching on cable.
Dish is looking to solve those problems with a new kind of video service aimed specifically at the cord-cutter set. Sling TV provides a small bundle of live TV programming for an affordable price that it hopes will appeal to users who don’t want to pay upwards of $100 for hundreds of channels just to get the five shows they want to watch.
What You Get With Sling TV
Sling TV features a dozen different live TV programming options to choose from at launch. To make it work, Dish negotiated rights with major media companies like Disney, Turner, and Scripps to create a light package of networks to flip through.
The crown jewel of the bunch is ESPN and ESPN2, which will be streaming over-the-top to non-cable subscribers for the first time. But the channel lineup also includes the Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, TBS, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network.
Interestingly, the service will also have a channel devoted to videos from Maker Studios, which will look just like a live TV channel and feature videos from the multichannel video network’s stable of creators. That’s a first for maker, which is looking for new distribution outlets beyond just serving its videos on YouTube.
In addition to the channels available in its base package, Sling TV will also have so-called “add-on packs” that will allow subscribers to pay a little bit extra to get more content from a specific genre.
For $5 more, subscribers with children can sign up for the Kids Extra pack, which includes networks like Disney Junior and Boomerang. Meanwhile, those who are really into the DIY set can sign up for the News & Info Extra pack, which includes the Cooking Channel, HLN, and Bloomberg.
What You Don’t Get With Sling TV
Perhaps what’s more important than what’s included in Sling TV is what’s not included. This isn’t a bundle that is designed to replace your entire cable subscription. If you really love watching ESPN 8 or The Golf Channel, this package is not for you.
That said, there are some important networks missing, especially for those who have come to bask in the renaissance of cable TV programming from networks like AMC or FX. Both of those networks are absent from the launch slate.
Also missing are broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. According to Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch, that’s because most consumers are able to find programming from those networks elsewhere — like on Hulu, for instance. They could also just hook a digital antenna to their TVs as an alternative.
A few other technical things about how Sling TV will work: It will be a single-stream service, which means only one device will be able to access the stream at any time. If you’re watching on an iPad and your roommate turns it on through the Roku, your stream will be shut down.
The other thing missing is the ability to DVR content or save it for later. Sling TV is hoping to deal with this primarily by having rights to a lot of video-on-demand content that viewers can refer back to later.
Where You Can Watch Sling TV
Sling TV is not available yet, but when it does become available, you’ll be able to subscribe online and watch through a number of devices. That includes iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets, as well as Macs and PCs. But it will also be available on a wide range of connected TV devices, including Roku set-top boxes and Roku-powered TVs, The Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Google Nexus Player, the Microsoft Xbox One, and LG and Samsung Smart TVs.
The Bottom Line?
Sling TV isn’t being pitched as a replacement for cable, nor as a service that’s competitive with Netflix or Hulu. (In fact, the company’s flyer calls it a “perfect complement” to those services.) With the service, Dish is hoping to capture a set of users who have opted out of pay TV, by giving them a more affordable and more flexible offering. Users can sign up for $20 a month and cancel at any time — there are no contracts or commitments to keep them there.
That, plus the ability to get ESPN online, will surely get some people to sign up. The question is just how big that market will be over time, and how quickly it can grow.