Internet TV is here. Sony kicked us off in earnest with the launch of PlayStation Vue (which currently remains in limited beta), but Dish is about to make a full-on push into a new TV experience aimed at cord cutters and millennials who've dropped or never even had a cable or satellite subscription. If you're someone who pays for Netflix (and maybe Hulu Plus) and borrows someone else's password to watch HBO Go, you're probably the type of person Dish is trying to sell this on. At a recent media event, CEO Joe Clayton recently said his company is aiming for the 18-35 demographic. "I believe it's the launch of a whole new industry," he said.
A new kind of TV experience is arriving
Dish's grand experiment is called Sling TV, and before going on, we need to point out that it has very little to do with the Sling brand you may already be familiar with. There's no direct partnership with Slingbox or Sling Media, though both it and Dish are beneath a single parent company, EchoStar. So right off the bat, it's a somewhat confusing name that Dish maybe could've done better with. Another thing: though this is a service designed by and coming from Dish, you wouldn't know it without being told. The satellite provider's own logo is nowhere to be seen on branding and marketing materials — a decision meant to underline that Sling TV isn't meant to compete with or cannibalize Dish's primary satellite business. It's a new product meant for consumers that Dish has never been able to sign on. "It is a complementary service, not a supplementary service," said Clayton at a recent media gathering.
This isn't the cable experience you're used to
But what is Sling TV? For $20 a month — yes, twenty dollars — you get access to a lineup of cable networks that includes TNT, TBS, CNN, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, the Disney Channel, ESPN, and ESPN2. ESPN is obviously a huge get for Dish and could earn Sling TV plenty of customers all on its own. ESPN just ended another year as TV's leading cable network, and now you won't need a traditional cable package to watch it. For sports fanatics, that could prove enticing. But Dish has hinted that there may be limits on watching ESPN on mobile thanks to red tape from existing deals between the network and Verizon. We'll need to wait for the specifics on that.
There are no contracts involved with Sling TV. No commitments. You can buy it for a month and cancel the next if you're not sold on the idea. And since it's a true, over-the-top internet TV service, you can watch and take it anywhere. This really is TV everywhere; watch it on a Roku box in your living room, and then carry live TV with you outside the house on Android and iOS devices. You can also stream it on your PC or Mac with a web browser. Here's the initial list of exactly where you can tune into Sling TV:
- Amazon Fire TV
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Google Nexus Player
- LG Smart TVs
- Mac / OS X
- Roku set-top boxes
- Roku Streaming Stick
- Roku TV
- Windows PC
- Xbox One
All of that newfound freedom gives you an idea of why Dish has rounded up a fairly small list of supporters right now. This is new territory that both it and Sony are entering, and popular networks are perfectly cozy with the current system that calls for a cable subscription if you want to watch full episodes and complete seasons of their shows. (Beyond what's on Hulu.com, of course.) There's no AMC here, nor FX and Comedy Central. And none of the big four networks want anything to do with Sling TV at this stage. But instead of negotiating for months and years on end, Dish is choosing to make a go of it now. Give them points for determination, if nothing else. "Our strategy was never to replicate traditional pay TV over the internet," said Roger Lynch, the newly named CEO of Sling TV. Doing so would've resulted in $60 or $70 bundles, according to Lynch. "We don't think that's the right approach.
No a la carte channels, but you can add on "genre" packages
Dish calls a la carte an "impossibility."
Sling TV is something new, but that doesn't mean Dish plans on delivering the "dream" of a la carte programming. That approach would never work out on the business end of things, according to the company's top brass. "The economics for it don't really work out for programs," said Lynch. And Dish insist it would wind up a bigger hassle than consumers expect. Instead, beyond the $20 base offering, you can pay extra for "genre packages" that add more content. "You can construct a package that meets your needs rather than the traditional pay TV bundle of big, bigger, biggest," Lynch said. Today, Dish is announcing two of those premium packs: Kids and News. Each will tack $5 more onto the monthly $20 price — and did we mention you'll still be dealing with commercials? Apparently that's one aspect of traditional pay TV that Dish isn't comfortable ditching yet.
There's a lot we still don't know about the specifics of Sling TV. You'll be able to pause and rewind live shows, and some will be available to replay for up to three days after they originally air. But others won't, and Dish isn't yet getting specific about names. Exactly where and when will you be able to watch ESPN? Also, Dish says it's got a huge catalog of video-on-demand programming to complement live TV. That includes some internet content producers like Maker Studios. Dish says Sling TV will launch later this month, so it won't be long before you get to try out its take on internet TV. The big question is whether it'll prove worth paying for in addition to Netflix and, eventually, HBO. Just don't count on sharing it with anyone: there's a single-stream limit at all times.
Dish CEO Joe Clayton at today's announcement of Sling Television