Dish Network made a huge splash on Monday with its launch announcement for Sling TV, a new $20/month TV-over-internet service that includes ESPN and ESPN2. However, it also attracted its share of skeptics, thanks to its single-stream limitation and its odd selection of channels.
Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia pointed out that the channels on offer from Sling TV might be its weakest selling point to its target market.
On the content side, the service seems very underpowered for the market Dish is aiming at. Included in the base $20 a month package are 12 channels billed as the “Best of Live TV”: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. At first glance, this appears to be missing some essentials…
While Sling TV’s technical implementation and business terms seem like a good fit for millennials, the content selection feels more like “This is what we could get” rather than the “Best of Live TV”. Dish will have to sharpen the content selection if it is to find success with the young.
Morgan Wick was also quick to suggest — as I did last March — that Sling TV doesn’t break up the cable bundle so much as try to preserve it.
Sling TV may not be a cable company in the sense that they string a bunch of wires to your house (or in Dish’s case, put a satellite dish on your roof) and deliver hundreds of channels through it, but it is very much a cable bundle, even if a smaller one. You can’t pick and choose which channels of the base package of twelve you want and discard the rest, and you certainly can’t forego any of those base channels if you want any of the genre packages – especially important when Dish’s existing DishWorld service will be folded into SlingTV. Dish seems to be indicating it intends to keep the SlingTV suite lighter than a typical cable subscription, but make no mistake: the only reason this service doesn’t have more channels is because Dish hasn’t been able to get any other companies on board.
Presumably, those other companies will get on board before too long; Dish Network’s current fight with Fox has as much to do with Sling TV as it does with satellite carriage fees for Fox News. That said, before Fox or AMC or CBS or anybody else gets on board, Sling TV will be out there now. As it currently stands, who would find value in Sling TV, and who would dismiss it?
Let’s examine that more closely.
You might want to try Sling TV if you are:
1.) An Apartment Dweller
Most apartment complexes prevent tenants from putting up satellite dishes. Thus, the only options for TV and Internet service are the local cable monopoly and the local phone company — and unless your local phone company is AT&T or Verizon, you probably can’t get TV service from them. So if you want to watch live TV, cable is likely your only option.
Sling TV would change that. It would allow a large number of apartment dwellers to dump their cable company and still have access to some live TV and live sports for a much lower price. That will be appealing to a lot of people pissed off at all the new fees in their current cable bills.
What’s more, independent ISPs, many of whom already partner with Dish Network on “Triple Play” bundles, would be thrilled to offer this sort of service to apartment-dwelling customers. Many of those ISPs might even ask Dish if they could offer the first month of Sling TV to new customers for free. You might start seeing those offers in your area before the end of the year.
2.) A Set-Top Box Owner
Did you just get a Roku or an Amazon Fire TV for Christmas, thinking you could use it to watch Netflix and/or Amazon Prime and maybe some YouTube channels you really like? You’ll be able to watch Sling TV on that box, too. You already have access to a ton of channels on Roku. Now you can add ESPN to that mix as well.
What’s more, Sling TV will give you limited access to WatchESPN as well — meaning you can get ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3 through a separate app, though probably not ESPNU or the SEC Network. That means you might be able to get around the service’s single-stream limit by watching the game on WatchESPN while someone else in your household watches another channel on Sling TV. Of course, with all the content on Netflix and Amazon Prime these days, that single-stream limitation might not be a big deal for many.
3.) A Basketball Fan
With ESPN and Turner on board, Sling TV can offer a ton of NBA games to its target customers. As this recent study showed, NBA fans skew much younger than baseball, football, and hockey fans, so that fits well with Sling TV’s target demographic. What’s more, with much of the NCAA Tournament on TNT and TBS now — including Final Four Weekend matchups — college basketball will be well-represented on Sling TV, too. (No Big East, though — not until Fox and Dish work things out.)
Pro and college football fans will have a slightly more limited selection, but they will have Monday Night Football, the College Football Playoff, and plenty of regular-season college games and bowl games. Plus, plenty of football games still air on broadcast TV, especially on NFL Sundays.
4.) Someone Who Doesn’t Like 12-Month Commitments
You can sign on to Sling TV for $20, and if you don’t like it, you can cancel at any time with no penalty or cancellation fee. Can’t get that from Comcast and Time Warner Cable, can you?
5.) Someone Who Hates Cable But Still Needs A SportsCenter Fix
Here’s ESPN and ESPN2 for $20. If that doesn’t scream “Comcast methadone” to at least a million people out there, I don’t know what does.
Now let’s look at the flip side to this service.
You might want to avoid Sling TV if you are:
1.) A Non-Sports Fan
There’s no option to get Sling TV without ESPN and ESPN2. That means your $20 will still cover the $6.49/month carriage fee of for those two channels. In fact, Dish is likely paying a premium ESPN and ESPN2, which means more of your money will go to ESPN. This seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
2.) Someone Who Owns More Than One Or Two TVs
The single-stream limitation on Sling TV will undoubtedly lead to some arguments in households where multiple people are watching different things. A stream gets cut off, and someone will get yelled at for it. Even worse, a cheap internet connection that pushes 10 Mbps or less downstream might not be able to handle multiple streams at once — or worse, your ISP might slow down Sling TV streams in order to A.) get you back on cable, or B.) get more money out of Dish. We have seen this before.
3.) A Hockey Fan
The NHL is tied to NBCSN until 2020, and the NHL’s streaming service blacks out local teams doesn’t include the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dish and Comcast-owned NBC have not come to terms.
What’s more, the arrival of Sling TV ensures that Charlie Ergen will be a very vocal opponent of Comcast’s internet data caps, which make it much harder for Comcast customers to enjoy online video, thus keeping them tied to cable. Expect Ergen to remind everyone in Washington, D.C., that data caps give Comcast an unfair advantage over services like his — and that Comcast should remove data caps from its internet service before it’s allowed to purchase Time Warner Cable.
Never mind the legal requirements of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger. How much will NBC execs really want to deal with Ergen if he’s trying to sink their parent company’s plans to grow bigger?
4.) A Soccer Fan (For Now)
NBCSN has the Premier League. Fox Sports has the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League, and the FA Cup. BeIN Sports has the Spanish, Italian, and French leagues. None of these services are on Sling TV yet.
BeIN Sports and Fox Sports 1 seem very likely to be part of a sports add-on pack that will be introduced in a few months, but that still leaves out the Premier League — for now. ESPN and Fox seem very likely to outbid NBC for the next Premier League contract, which is up for grabs later this year. NBC’s current contract runs through the 2015-16 season, though, so that doesn’t help soccer fans much right now.
5.) A Die-hard Fan Of Local Teams
Are Regional Sports Networks the real reason some folks don’t cut the cord? This Forbes analysis from last August would suggest so.
According to the information from Nielsen, of the 29 U.S.-based clubs in (Major League Baseball), 12 of them are the #1-rated programming in prime time since the start of the season in their home markets, beating both broadcast and cable competition.
Yep. The channels that carry those games? Not available on Sling TV. Given that many of those RSNs would add between $2 and $5 a month to your bill, it might be a while before we see them on Sling TV.
In time, of course, the value proposition of Sling TV will change. Google’s Chromecast only offered Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play when it launched in 2013, and now it supports dozens of high-profile apps. The same will happen with Sling TV. Eventually, other big-name networks will sign on, and the service will start to look a lot more attractive to many. For now, though, Sling TV is simply a low-cost alternative to cable that includes ESPN. That might be enough a lot of would-be cord-cutters out there. For non-sports fans, though, it’s still a non-starter.