Dish’s Internet-based streaming service Sling TV has made a name for itself as an alternative way to subscribe to cable TV programming without a traditional pay TV subscription. But now, the company appears to be branching out to include broadcast television channels as a part of its offering. The company has quietly launched support for streaming the ABC network over its service in select U.S. markets, according to information recently added to its website.
The channel is being made available as part of a “Broadcast Extra” bundle – one of Sling’s many $5 per month add-on packages that allow users to customize their subscriptions to their own interests.
These optional packages are meant to complement Sling TV’s core offering, the “Best of Live TV,” which is a $20 per month subscription providing access to a number of cable TV channels, like AMC, ESPN, Food Network, History, A&E, TNT, HGTV, IFC, TBS, Travel Channel, CNN, CN, Lifetime, Bloomberg, and others.
There are a variety of add-on bundles for things like sports programming or kid-friendly stations, for example. Most of these optional packages are $5 per month, except for premium channels like HBO ($15/mo) and Cinemax ($10/mo), which cost more.
Currently, ABC is the only big-name broadcaster in the “Broadcast Extra” bundle. The only other two channels offered are Spanish-language networks, Univision and UniMas.
The addition of ABC was first spotted by the blog Cord Cutter News, which also noted that the only way to add the package for the time being was by the phone – Sling wasn’t allowing users to add the bundle via the website. From early reports, those who have the ability to watch ABC via Sling say that it’s a stream from their local station.
Currently, Sling says the “Broadcast Extra” package is only available in select metro regions, including Chicago, Fresno-Visalia, Houston, L.A., New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, and San Francisco. However, the company did say on Twitter that it’s working to provide ABC to “all local markets as soon as possible.”
@OMGr8573 I don’t have that information at this time. We are working to provide it to all local markets as soon as possible. *IS
— Sling Answers (@slinganswers) February 17, 2016
This is the first time that Sling TV has made one the “big four” broadcast TV channels available via its over-the-top streaming service.
Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch said this fall that he expected the service to introduce broadcast networks, but not in “the short-term.” He explained that broadcast TV was a complicated market, where networks were hampered by all their local affiliate agreements.
In fact, Lynch even called out ABC in particular, as an example of this problem, saying “ABC can’t do it” – meaning, it couldn’t negotiate a national agreement because of its affiliate deals.
Apparently, Sling is now working around that problem.
The move comes at a time when Sling’s growth is being used to pad the numbers from parent company Dish Network’s bleeding subscriber base.
Analysts estimate Sling TV has grown to reach around 400,000 customers. However, many subscribers, past and present, have complained about the service’s quality – specifically things like pixelation, freezing, app crashes, and other glitches. In other words, without a stable offering, even adding broadcast channels to Sling’s lineup may not be enough to encourage further growth in the long run.
Making broadcast TV available through an internet streaming service is not an idea that’s unique to Sling TV, we should also note. Comcast’s Stream TV, its TV Everywhere-powered alternative to cable TV, also includes broadcast networks, as do offerings from Time Warner Cable and Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) FiOS, where markets permit.
Sling TV has not made an official announcement about the addition of ABC, and declined to comment on future plans. However, the company did note that the markets where ABC is now live represent more than half of the top 10 designated market areas, and serve nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population.
Updated @ 11 AM ET with Sling comment