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The SlingCatcher Is Here!

Jeff Baumgartner
10/10/2008
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2:45 PM -- The much-anticipated SlingCatcher hit stores this week, offering consumers an easier way to pipe in video from the wild world of the Internet and display it on a fancy big screen screens. It'll just cost you $300.

I'm all for the easier part. Earlier this year, I tapped into Hulu LLC to catch up on Heroes before season three got underway, and used my personal laptop, a HomePlug adapter, and an HDMI cord to stream it to a wide-screen TV set. It worked, but I came away from the experience with a master's degree in clunkology.

Our friends at Contentinople have the goods on the product and its capabilities, but as devices like this always tend to do, the SlingCatcher has opened up a raft of competitive implications. Such as: Does the SlingCatcher put traditional cable TV services in any serious jeopardy? Will consumers opt to go with a broadband-exclusive strategy for their video goodness now that there's a raft of high-quality shows and movies available from Internet sources like Hulu, Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), and subscription offerings such as Starz Play. (See Starz Pulls the Plug on Vongo.)

Of course, some may choose that path, but I'll be surprised if Sling Media Inc. 's latest entry puts much of a dent on cable anytime soon. If anything, it could siphon away some video-on-demand (VOD) revenues, remove some eyeballs from the cable TV equation, and wreak more havoc on the old TV ad model.

But it's not like Sling has a monopoly on the concept. Even TV service providers are starting to embrace the Internet TV concept (some more grudgingly than others, of course) and view it as a complement to their primary video offerings. The latest example is Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), which is beta-testing a hybrid model that allows customers to access Web videos rather seamlessly via the set-top. (See Verizon Tests Internet Video on FiOS.)

But that's Verizon, a company that's more than happy to pump a differentiator like that into the video marketplace and see if it will cause consumers to froth at the mouth. What about cable? To no one's surprise, bringing the video treasures of Web to the TV screen is on their roadmap as well... It's just further out.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), of course, has the Fancast video Internet hub, which is already beta-testing a downloading service. (See Fancast Does Downloads.) An obvious step in the evolution is to unleash Fancast on the tidier set-top/TV environment. One major problem, of course, is that cable systems are carpeted by old crusty set-tops that don't speak a lick of IP. While I suppose it's technically possible to replicate the Fancast menu through the regular cable VOD system (rather than via the public Internet), hammering out those carriage deals with programmers would be arduous at best and would likely raise the hackles of local broadcasters.

But new advanced chipsets and hybrid cable boxes capable of supporting speedy Docsis 3.0 connections could solve that problem. (See TI Flexes Docsis 3.0 Muscle .) And let's not forget that Sling is part of EchoStar Technologies LLC, a Charlie Ergen spinoff that's going to develop set-tops based on the tru2way platform. (See EchoStar Inks Tru2way Accord .) Who's to say they won't bake in all sorts of Sling goodies just give them a leg up at retail and put forth a cable set-top that consumers might (gasp!) actually want to buy? I'm actually counting on it.

But all of this just won't happen overnight. And that might be okay from cable's point of view. Despite the excitement it generated this week and the months leading up to its launch, the SlingCatcher isn't about to alter the TV landscape by Saturday morning, either.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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