'Business as Usual' for Sling Media
Although his young company is in the process of being purchased by EchoStar Satellite LLC for $380 million, Sling Media Inc. CEO Blake Krikorian says the place-shifting pioneer will continue to aggressively pursue retail distribution, develop new stand-alone products, and even go after cable deals. (See EchoStar to Buy Sling Media.)
"For us, it's very much business as usual," Krikorian told Cable Digital News in an interview Tuesday afternoon. "Across the board, things will remain unmodified. We're not being handcuffed at all. Charlie [Ergen, EchoStar's founder and CEO, and a fellow entrepreneur] has given us free reign to sell at retail and work directly with content owners in the U.S. and around the world."
If anything, EchoStar's involvement "should give us a whole new turbo pack… and allow us to really continue the model that we're doing now," he adds.
The possibility of such freedom is likely linked to EchoStar's plans to spin off of its technology and infrastructure assets, and separate it from its consumer-based, satellite TV DISH Network service. (See EchoStar Mulls Spinoff.)
If that goes through, the new, publicly traded division would manage the company's tech and infrastructure assets, which include set-tops and digital video recording hardware and software, uplink centers, and even Nagrastar, a security and encryption joint venture formed with Kudelski Group in 1998. Presumably, the division would also absorb Sling and act as a buffer so that EchoStar can develop Sling-based services and applications for DISH as well as for cable operators, telcos, and other parties that compete with DISH.
That should allow the Sling brand to continue and enable the company to continue selling new Slingbox models and develop applications for them. Sling Media, which has about 170 employees, has not released exact revenue or shipment figures, but Krikorian says the company, which has sales relationships with about 5,000 retail outlets, has shipped "hundreds of thousands" of Slingbox units.
He also hinted that Sling Media expects to announce a couple of new products this week, but declined to go into detail.
Thanks to some leaked Federal Communications Commission (FCC) documents, rumors have been rampant about a new Slingbox model that embeds a Docsis 2.0 cable modem. Technology blogs far and wide have shared technical details on the model as well as product photos.
So far, direct deals or trials between Sling Media and cable operators have been rare. UPC Broadband , a cable operator with ties to Sling Media investor Liberty Media Corp. (NYSE: LMC), is testing Sling's capabilities in the Netherlands. Through previous deals, Viasat, a satellite TV provider in Sweden, and TVA, one of Brazil's largest cable operators, have marketed Slingboxes directly to customers. To date, Sling Media has not announced any distribution deals with U.S.-based television service operators.
How Sling and EchoStar may work together or build in enhancements based on Sling's technoloy and application portfolio is still anyone's guess.
In the release announcing the deal, EchoStar's Ergen played up Sling's ability to distribute programming to multiple displays and locations, including TVs, computers, and mobile phones. While noting the Sling-EchoStar combo "paves the way for the development of a host of new innovative products and services for our subscribers," Ergen did not outline any specific, additional plans for Sling's technology.
An EchoStar spokesman declined to comment beyond Ergen's prepared statements.
Likewise, Krikorian would not discuss any future product plans, though embedding Sling's place-shifting capabilities directly into an EchoStar receiver always remains a possibility. However, "that [implementation] might happen with a different operator first," he said.
"We obviously would love to work with the DISH Network guys, but we have to pitch ideas to Carl Vogel [EchoStar's president and vice chairman] like we would as a stand-alone company on that front."
While EchoStar and Sling aren't shedding much light yet on how the two might work together, Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman and senior research analyst for The Carmel Group , suggests that EchoStar's tech unit might consider fitting Sling's place-shifting capabilities into a new design of the PocketDISH, a line of hand-held mobile video products made by Archos that allow customers to transfer and playback shows recorded on the EchoStar receiver's digital video recorder.
"I think [EchoStar] will add their deep pockets to the basic idea of the Slingbox and move it to the next level," Schaeffler says.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News