Dish’s streaming video subscription service Sling TV will become available to consumers tomorrow, giving subscribers access to a small portion of live, traditional cable TV content for just $20 a month. With its launch, the service is also rolling out a series of apps for mobile phones, tablets, and streaming devices that hook into a subscriber’s TV.
With Sling TV, Dish is going after consumers who don’t subscribe to large pay TV packages today. By offering a service that boasts a low price — just $20 a month — and pairing it with content consumers are missing out on by not paying for cable or satellite TV, the folks at Dish think they can capture an audience of broadband-only households.
The key selling point from the content side is the inclusion of ESPN, which had not previously been available to streaming video viewers who weren’t willing to pay for cable. But Sling TV also offers up a few other channels in its base package — like TBS, TNT, CNN, HGTV, DIY, and Food Network — that could appeal to certain niche audiences.
For those who want more choices, particularly for children’s content or news, Sling TV offers bonus packs of channels for $5 a month in those categories. It also hopes to have an expanded tier of sports channels at the same price, which it says is coming soon.
Sling TV isn’t all about streaming live TV: At its general market launch, the service will have videos from Maker Studios in addition to live TV channels from traditional TV networks. Finally, Sling TV will also offer up a selection of video-on-demand movies and TV shows that users can purchase.
To get users watching the service, Sling TV has introduced mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. It will also have apps for Amazon Fire TV, the Amazon Fire TV Stick, and the Roku 3, to allow viewers to stream live cable networks directly to their TVs.
The service was announced earlier this month at CES, but beginning Tuesday at midnight the company will start rolling out invites to interested users who had pre-registered it at Sling.com. Those invites will be sent out on a rolling basis as the service scales up and prepares for a general market launch.
I’ve gotten a chance to test out the iOS app for Sling TV, and found that it generally works as promised. You can choose from a selection of live video channels based on category — sports, entertainment, news, and family — and just flip between them to change what you’re watching.
The one technical downside to the iOS app at launch is that it doesn’t seem to support AirPlay, so I could beam content from my mobile device to the TV. For that, Sling enables viewers to hook into their existing Roku or Amazon Fire TV device.
Unfortunately, I have a Roku 2 (not a Roku 3) and never got in on the Fire TV thing so I wasn’t able to test out the Sling TV experience optimized for TV screens.
The other downside is that Sling TV’s content selection at launch isn’t as strong as it could be. While it’s nice to have ESPN, the service is missing a fair number of channels that viewers would probably like to see — including networks like AMC and FX for original TV series or Comedy Central, Bravo, or MTV for entertainment programming.
Then again, Sling TV is a slimmed-down version of your traditional cable bundle by design. It’s hoping to only include channels that its viewers most care about and will likely add more content as time goes on and it’s able to reach more deals with content companies.
The good news is that Sling TV, unlike more traditional cable TV bundles, has no contracts and no upfront installation costs. Subscribers can cancel at any time, and the company is offering a one-week free trial for those who’d like to try it out before committing to it.