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EchoStar Puts Sling Out to License

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
7/28/2009
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GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The Independent Show -- EchoStar Technologies LLC is in discussions to license its "SlingLoaded" video place-shifting technology to third-party set-top box suppliers, TV makers, and other "digital media providers," Cable Digital News has learned.

To date, EchoStar has offered the SlingLoaded feature only in its own boxes, including a model for satellite TV giant (and corporate cousin) Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH); digital cable boxes for European cable MSOs; and, more recently, a tru2way box for the U.S. cable market. (See EchoStar Slings Its First Tru2way Set-Top, EchoStar Jumps the Pond , and Dish Box Bakes In Sling.)

Now, though, it's offering the technology to other interested vendors. EchoStar senior product manager P. Margit Tritt outlined details of the licensing plan here at an event tailored to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable service providers. She declined to discuss the financial terms of such a license but said it would provide partners with everything they'd need to embed Sling's technology and offer the company's video place-shifting applications.

EchoStar is also not saying with whom it's discussing its licensing concept, but if it decides to go after the largest cable set-top suppliers in the U.S., Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Pace Micro Technology are among the possible candidates.

The decision to license Sling Media Inc. 's technology is part of EchoStar's plan to make "place-shifting as common as DVRs," Tritt said.

It could also help provide some payback for the $380 million in cash and stock that EchoStar, Charlie Ergen's set-top and technology spinoff, splashed out to acquire Sling Media in 2007. (See EchoStar to Buy Sling Media and EchoStar Ready to Split.)

Although embedded Sling technology would allow cable operators to provide a place-shifting application, some MSOs already have some efforts of their own underway. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for example, is proceeding with an "On Demand Online" technology trial that will use an "authentication" process to deliver a menu of programming to broadband-connected PCs. (See TW, Comcast Cast 'TV Everywhere' Principles and Time Warner, Comcast Team Up for TV Everywhere.)

tru2way update
EchoStar is here at The Independent Show to solicit feedback from smaller operators about their present set-top needs.

Tritt said EchoStar is in "active discussions" about its tru2way-based HD-DVR model (the T2200S), which it plans to sell directly to larger MSOs. The supplier has no intentions at this point to sell the box through retail channels.

In addition to the embedded Sling capabilities, the T2200S features dual tuners, Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) support, a 500-gigabyte hard drive, and support for the MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and VC1 video codecs. An integrated Web browser and an online interface that lets users manage the DVR remotely are among some of the box's optional features.

Although a fully featured version of the Sling technology lets users access their home-based video via a wide range of broadband-connected PCs, phones, and PDAs from anywhere in the world, EchoStar does offer cable operators options that would restrict some of the tru2way box's place-shifting capabilities.

One of those options, according to a T2200S spec sheet, would allow only for "in-home" place-shifting (to PCs and other displays and video monitors on the home network).

Another on the list gives MSOs the ability to disable place-shifting on a channel-by-channel basis. Those are presumably in place to address any programming copyright or retransmission concerns MSOs might have about the Sling technology.

EchoStar hopes to enter some MSO lab trials by this fall, Tritt said.

But the future of EchoStar's involvement with cable operators and other markets is somewhat clouded by the company's ongoing legal entanglements with DVR pioneer TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and its "Time Warp" patent. (See EchoStar, Dish to Pay TiVo $103M.)

In early June, a Texas court ordered EchoStar to disable the DVR functionality in roughly 4 million satellite receivers that use software that allegedly infringes on the TiVo patent. However, a Federal Appeals Court in Washington temporarily stayed that order, so the final outcome remains up in the air. (See TiVo Wants Ergen to Dish Out $1B .)

An EchoStar spokesman declined to comment about what effects those proceedings might have on the company's cable prospects.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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