More disruption in the digital media space as more and more users cut the cable TV cord. Aivars Lode
Sling TV to Cost $20 a Month; Won’t Carry NBC or CBS
By Shalini Ramachandran and Don Clark
LAS VEGAS—Dish Network Corp. introduced a new online video service Monday that includes the popular sports network ESPN, culminating a three-year effort to create an inexpensive streaming TV service to reach a younger generation of viewers.
The satellite TV provider said the service, dubbed Sling TV, will launch in January at $20 a month and won’t require a contract or commitment. The app will be available to consumers who aren’t currently Dish subscribers.
At launch, Dish said the new service will carry channels of both live and on-demand content from partners that include ESPN from Walt Disney Co., TNT from Time Warner Inc., and Food Network from Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.
The inclusion of ESPN could be especially significant, marking one of the cheapest ways that so-called cord-cutters, who shun conventional TV services, can tap into the channel’s trove of live sports programming. ESPN is a key selling point for cable and satellite TV providers, and the most expensive cable channel to carry.
Dish’s service also will offer Web videos from Maker Studios, one of the biggest producers of programming on YouTube.
But notably missing are big channels like NBC, CBS, Nickelodeon, Fox and Discovery, from Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, CBS Corp., Viacom Inc.,21st Century Fox and Discovery Communications Inc.
Some of those companies have been reluctant to license their networks for the new service because Dish wants just a subset of their popular channels, rather than the whole bundle, including lesser-watched channels. They fear that striking such a deal could undercut the current, lucrative pay-TV model.
Still, consumers can pull network TV channels like NBC and CBS out of the airwaves using an antenna.
Another sticking point: Dish has proposed to relegate broadcasters Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC to a separate tier that would cost consumers more, a move that would flip on its head the longtime practice of cable and satellite operators offering broadcast networks in their lowest-cost packages.
Still, Dish’s ability to reach deals with even some major TV programmers shows a shift in thinking over the past year in the TV industry. In November 2013, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said he was “0 for 50” in talks with content company CEOs.
But that has changed as more people are dropping their pay-TV subscriptions, and declining ratings for many major TV networks are forcing media companies to look for new routes to grow in a mature business.
Dish maintains that its aim is to increase revenue for all parties involved, rather than chip away at the existing model. Chief Executive Joe Clayton, at a news conference at CES, said the service should expand its audience by reaching millennial consumers rather than cannibalize its existing business.
“Why? Because we don’t reach them today,” Mr. Clayton said.
Dish believes it can aim its service narrowly at cord-cutters and “cord nevers”—younger consumers who have never paid for television. To that end, the service will only allow one stream per subscription at any given time, to limit its appeal for families with varying tastes among members. Curbing simultaneous streams would also deter households from sharing subscriptions.
Unlike traditional satellite or cable TV, Dish’s new service won’t require customers to wait for technicians to visit the house and install equipment; it’ll be instantly available as an app on popular devices that can stream video.
Customers also can cancel their subscriptions any time, and Dish says it won’t require contracts or credit checks that are typically required when signing up for pay TV.
The service will be available on a number of devices, including tablets, smartphones, computers, gaming consoles and devices from companies like Roku Inc., Microsoft Corp.—with its Xbox videogame console—and Amazon.com Inc. that stream video to TV sets.
While the service won’t have a digital video recorder, a replay feature will allow viewers to watch many of the shows that have aired in the past three days on demand. Dish says viewers will be able to pause, rewind and fast forward most live channels and on-demand content. The satellite provider hinted at additional deals to come for children’s and news genre programming.
Streaming TV is a crowded field. Netflix Inc., Amazon and Hulu already stream shows from many of the networks Dish will carry. Sony Corp. launched an online version of pay TV late last year, complete with a cloud-based digital video recorder. Meanwhile, TV networks like HBO plan to release their own stand-alone streaming services this year.
Roger Lynch, Dish’s executive vice president of advanced technologies who was named chief executive of Sling TV LLC, said the new service will be promoted with an ad campaign under the slogan “Take Back TV.”
Sling TV has no direct connection to Sling Media, which was purchased by EchoStar Corp. in 2007, that makes the Slingbox streaming device. EchoStar is Dish’s sister company, also controlled by Mr. Ergen.
Among other CES announcements, Dish said it would begin offering a new set-top box that is specifically designed to carry the new Ultra HD, or 4K, content that some of the latest televisions support.