Sling TV opens the floodgates, accepts sign-ups without invites

Sling TV, the online TV streaming service from Dish Networks, is now available to everyone: The service ended its invitation-only soft launch late Sunday night and began to accept sign-ups from everyone on its website.

Sling offers consumers live access to a total of 15 channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, CNN, HGTV, Cartoon Network and others for $20 a month. New to this basic package are Galavision, El Rey Network and a channel for Maker Studios content, which had been previously announced but initially wasn’t part of the invite-only beta test. AMC is going to be added to the base package soon, according to a Sling TV press release. There’s no word yet on whether Sling will also add other channels that are part of the AMC Networks family, including IFC, Sundance TV and WE TV.

Sling subscribers can elect to add more channels through three different add-on packages that cost $5 each. These include a news and information package, a kids and family package and a sports add-on package that offers access to additional ESPN channels and a few other sports networks. As of Monday, subscribers will also be able to use ESPN’s WatchESPN apps, but the content available to them will depend on their individual subscription: Sling TV’s base package unlocks ESPN1, ESPN2 and ESPN3 streams, whereas the added sports package will provide access to more content.

Sling TV is catering to cord cutters and what the company calls “cord haters,” meaning people who would love to get rid of cable but haven’t been able to in the past, primarily because of sports. Sling wants to win over this audience by offering them a lower-priced package without some of the strings that are usually attached with a traditional pay TV service. For example, Sling TV customers will be able to cancel any time, and don’t need commit to year-long contracts.

However, Sling TV couldn’t completely do away with the limitations of its industry. Some of the most advanced features of the service, which include the ability to rewind and fast forward in a current show or go back to any show that has aired within the last 72 hours, aren’t available on most networks due to contractual restrictions. In addition, Sling TV is only available on one single device at a time.

Check this video for a first look at Sling TV:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3yR0D-c68]

This post was updated at 9:33am with information about AMC coming to Sling TV.

Cable TV viewing declined by more than 12 percent in January

Looks like Netflix and other streaming services are starting to have an impact on traditional TV viewing: Total live TV ratings were down 12.7 percent year over year across the networks of major media companies, according to a note from Nomura Research, which is based on recent numbers from Nielsen. Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente wrote that this was “one of the worst declines we have seen since we launched coverage of these companies.”

So why is live TV struggling? DiClemente pointed the finger at streaming services as the reason for the decline: “Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu, continue to siphon viewers away from linear TV,” he concluded.

There are some differences between individual networks, which in turn weigh on media companies’ bottom lines. January was a particularly bad month for Viacom, which saw ratings decline by 23 percent when compared to January 2014, with declines largely driven by MTV and Nickelodeon. Disney on the other hand only faced ratings declines of 7.5 percent, thanks in part to great ratings for ESPN.

Numbers like these run counter to the notion that online video viewing is additive to traditional TV consumption. That may have been true when people only streamed 15 minutes a day, but recent numbers from Netflix show that its subscribers watch an average of 90 minutes of Netflix programming every day.

Cord Cutters: A first look at Sling TV

Dish is starting to invite some first users to its new Sling TV online streaming service this week. Here’s how the service looks like on a Roku 3.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3yR0D-c68]

Show notes for this episode:

  • Sling TV’s base package is going to cost $20, for which you’ll get access to live feeds from ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. Additional kids and news packages will cost $5 each.
  • Check out all you need to know about Sling TV.
  • Sling TV is currently in an invite-only phase. You can apply for an invite on Sling’s website.
  • Sling TV is expected to go live for everyone within the next two weeks.

Will you subscribe to Sling TV, or is something crucial missing from the service? Let us know in the comments below!

First look video: VLC is coming to Android TV

The popular media player app VLC is coming to Android TV: VLC developers have released a preview version that already looks pretty neat — here’s a first look.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSXnvlAh41Q]

Show notes for this episode:

Is VLC on Android TV a game changer, or just a nice add-on? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

CES is finally over. Here’s everything you missed

We expected CES this year to be about connecting everything from watches to toothbrushes to virtual worlds. We did see a lot of connected, crazy gadgetry and more: the FCC’s Tom Wheeler hinted at his net neutrality decision and even Twitter won an Emmy to wrap up a long, weird week in Sin City.

Here’s a complete list of our coverage, broken down by topic, so you can get caught up on all the new tech to start the year:
TV and cord cutters
Wearables
Internet of Things
Phones and tablets
Computers
Connected Cars
3D printers, VR and a dose of science

TV and cord cutters

DISH President and CEO Joe Clayton makes his entrance playing a drum with kangaroo characters at a press event for DISH at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DISH President and CEO Joe Clayton makes his entrance playing a drum with kangaroo characters at a press event for DISH at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wearables

Smartwatches the Burg 12, left, the LG G Watch R, center, and the Moto 360 are arranged for a photograph during CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015.

Smartwatches the Burg 12, left, the LG G Watch R, center, and the Moto 360 are arranged for a photograph during CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015.

Internet of Things

Mother smart home solution glows on a shelf during CES on Jan. 6, 2015.

Mother smart home solution glows on a shelf during CES on Jan. 6, 2015.

Phones and tablets

A LG G Flex curved smartphone is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on  Jan. 8, 2015.

A LG G Flex curved smartphone is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 8, 2015.

Computers

The Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) Pavillion Mini Desktop computer is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 8, 2015.

The Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) Pavillion Mini Desktop computer is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 8, 2015.

Connected cars

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia Corp., introduces the Drive CX Digital Cockpit Computer during a news conference ahead of CES on Jan. 4, 2015.

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia Corp., introduces the Drive CX Digital Cockpit Computer during a news conference ahead of CES on Jan. 4, 2015.

3D printers, VR and a dose of science

An attendee tries out a Samsung Gear VR headset during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 6, 2015.

An attendee tries out a Samsung Gear VR headset during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 6, 2015.

Dish’s new Sling TV service liberates ESPN from the cable bundle

There are two ways to look at Sling TV, the new internet-based TV service that will be announced by Dish on Monday at CES: It’s either a poor replacement of what cable has to offer, lacking even basic programming. Or it’s finally a way for cord cutters who don’t want to give up on sports to get ESPN live streaming, plus a few extra stations, for just $20 a month.

Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton announced Sling TV at CES Monday.

Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton announced Sling TV at CES Monday.

[company]Dish[/company] revealed not only the service’s name but also key details on programming and price: The base package, which will cost consumers $20 a month, includes live access to ESPN and ESPN2, as well as a couple of other cable networks, including Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, TNT, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Consumers will also be able to add additional packages, including for news programming, family content and sports, for five dollars each. Sling TV will launch before the end of January, and is already in private beta test with select customers.

Sling Guide

Sling TV will be available over the internet, and consumers will be able to watch the service on the web as well as via Roku, Fire TV, Android TV and Xbox One as well as iOS and Android. Chromecast and Apple TV are notably absent from the list, but Sling TV executives told me during a recent interview that they plan to add additional devices in the near future. Most, but not all channels offer DVR-like pause, rewind and fast forward features. And consumers will be able to access some shows up to three days after they air — but there are once again limits dictated by the contracts that Dish has with TV networks.

Sling TV: Not like any other TV service

Dish is not the only company looking to launch an internet-based TV service. Intel tried the same thing with its OnCue service, but eventually gave up on the idea and sold OnCue’s assets to Verizon. Sony announced its own internet-based TV service at CES in Las Vegas a year ago, and began limited tests of the service late last year. But Sony’s approach is very different from Dish’s: The PlayStation maker has been busy signing deals for big bundles, like the one with Viacom that will bring a total of 22 channels to Sony’s TV service, including not only popular networks like Comedy Central but also little-watched properties like VH1 Soul and Palladia.

“That type of deal that Sony signed with them is not a deal that we would do,” said Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch during a recent interview. He added that Comedy Central content is already “widely distributed,” with consumers being able to watch shows like the Daily Show on the show’s website or on Hulu.

[pullquote person=”Roger Lynch” attribution=”Roger Lynch, CEO, Sling TV” id=”903979″]“ESPN is an anchor.”[/pullquote]

Lynch maintained that the same is true for broadcast networks like Fox or CBS, which Sling TV doesn’t carry. Consumers can access their feeds with an antenna, or catch up on shows on Hulu or elsewhere, he argued, adding: “The fact is that they are already watching it.” Lynch said that Sling TV may add a broadcast tier “over time,” offering consumers to stream content from broadcaster for an extra fee. “We don’t want to force everyone to buy them,” he said.

Sling TV bills itself as complementary to Netflix and Hulu.

Sling TV bills itself as complementary to Netflix and Hulu.

Instead, Sling TV is betting that all of its customers want access to ESPN, which is the service’s crown jewel at launch. Or, as Lynch put it: “ESPN is an anchor.”

That’s an interesting bet, because it could actually work: Sports has been the deal-breaker for many would-be cord cutters, who just hold on to their $100-a-month cable bill because they don’t want to miss their team’s games. With Sling TV, they may now get what they want for just 20 bucks a month. Plus, the basic tier also comes with access to some content from WatchESPN, the sportscaster’s online video service. Specifically, Sling TV subscribers will have access to the ESPN1, ESPN2 and ESPN3 through the WatchESPN  app.

DishWorld will be folded into Sling TV

The move towards new online distribution models doesn’t come out of the blue for Dish. The company acquired online video platform provider Move Networks five years ago, and used the Move team to build out its own online team. That team actually launched a first online TV service in early 2013: DishWorld provides expats in the U.S. with access to live TV networks from countries like India, Brazil or Vietnam.

Sling TV may sound a little bit like Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox, but the two companies don't really have anything in common - except the same corporate parent.

Sling TV may sound a little bit like Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox, but the two companies don’t really have anything in common – except the same corporate parent.

Lynch told me that it’s been a success for the company, helping to grow the audience for international channels, which were previously only available as part of Dish’s service, threefold. He didn’t reveal any subscriber numbers, but said that consumers who do pay for international TV stations through Dishworld watch over five hours of programming via the service every day on average.

Dishworld is currently run by a team of 250 people, and Lynch said that the company plans to staff up in the coming months. “It’s in a way our big beta,” he said. It’s worth noting that this beta test is now over: DishWorld is going to be folded into Sling TV and rebranded as Sling International.

Is Dish suddenly a cord cutter’s best friend?

So will Sling TV eat into Dish’s traditional subscriber base? Lynch and the service’s Chief Marketing Officer Glenn Eisen insisted that won’t be the case, with Eisen telling me Sling TV is a separate business unit with the company that goes after a different set of customers. The service targets people who already have cut the cord, and what he called cord-haters: “Psychologically, they have already cut the cord.”

Household numbers are growing, while pay TV subscriptions are on the decline. Dish views this as an opportunity for Sling TV.

Household numbers are growing, while pay TV subscriptions are on the decline. Dish views this as an opportunity for Sling TV.

That’s nice rhetoric, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Dish is in the long run just as vulnerable as cable. The TV industry has seen a small but notable decline of subscribers in recent quarters, but online viewing has grown rapidly at the same time, suggesting that there may be more radical changes of consumption patterns ahead. Quizzed about this, Eisen and Lynch told me that Dish was cognizant of these shifts, but also optimistic that the industry could return to growth by embracing new models. Said Eisen: “If we care about growing the market, then we had to pivot.”

This post was updated throughout at 12:30pm with additional details shared during Dish’s CES press conference. It was updated again at 2:31pm and 4:28pm to clarify how much WatchESPN is part of Sling TV.

ces-2015-3

Every second cord cutter has a Netflix subscription

Here’s another reason that Netflix really wants to be on cable boxes: 48 percent of all households without a pay TV subscription have Netflix, but only 36 percent of households who have cable or another form of TV subscription also subscribe to Netflix, according to a new study from the Leichtman Research Group. This divide also impacts engagement: 32 percent of all pay TV subscribers watch Netflix every day, but 53 percent of all cord cutters stream Netflix every day.

Some of this discrepancy may be due to other options. 62 percent of all pay TV households now have a DVR, which offers them another option to binge watch, and that number is up from 41 percent five years ago. And 59 percent of cable households have used their TV provider’s VOD service before, compared to just 46 percent five years ago.

But Netflix executives also think that it’s about ease-of-access. If their service was right next to TV networks like HBO and Showtime, then pay TV subscribers would be more willing to pay, and tune in more often, they believe. That’s why the company has been busy negotiating with TV operators to bring the Netflix app onto cable boxes. After striking some deals with smaller local operators earlier last year, Netflix announced a major deal with Dish last month that will bring the Netflix app to Dish’s Hopper DVR.

Not just HBO: Starz wants to launch a streaming service for cord cutters as well

Next up to jump on the unbundling bandwagon may be Starz: The premium cable channel is planning to launch an online-only subscription service in international markets over the coming months, and Starz CEO Chris Albrecht suggested during the company’s earnings call Thursday that it will likely do the same in the U.S. “I don’t think it cannibalizes the existing business. It is a way to innovate and create real value,” he said, according to Variety. Albrecht’s remarks come after HBO, CBS and Univision all announced their own unbundling plans.