It's the end of the line for the Slingbox, a pioneering video "place-shifting" gadget that has outlived its relevance as streaming apps dominate how consumers watch TV when they are away from home... and even inside the home.
SlingMedia, a corporate cousin to EchoStar and Dish Network, announced online today that Slingbox products will be discontinued, effective November 9, 2020.
Time is ticking down
Existing Slingbox users will still have up to two years to place-shift to their heart's content. According to the associated FAQ, Slingbox servers will be permanently taken offline on November 9, 2022, "at which point ALL Slingboxes will become inoperable."
Until then, most Slingboxes will continue to work normally, but the number of supported devices for viewing "will steadily decrease as versions of the SlingPlayer apps become outdated and/or lose compatibility," the FAQ continued. "Some versions of the SlingPlayer app may receive maintenance updates, but there will be no new development work. Outdated or legacy versions of the SlingPlayer apps may be removed from the app stores without notice."
While some paid and free SlingPlayer apps for platforms such as the iOS and Amazon Fire TV along with Chromecast support will live on for a bit, Sling Media has already killed off the free app for Android tablets, the SlingPlayer app for Roku devices and, yes, even a SlingPlayer app built for Windows Phone devices.
Sling Media's stated reason for the decision to discontinue the Slingbox is to "make room for new innovative products so that we can continue to serve our customers in the best way possible." But the truth of the matter is that the Slingbox, which did (for a time) fill an important need as consumers sought a way to watch their pay-TV subscriptions away from home on smartphones, tablets and laptop screens, was always a temporary solution. It was clear almost from the start that it would eventually be cast aside as pay-TV providers continued to lock in more streaming rights and as programmers charged down the path of building and launching their own direct-to-consumer streaming apps and services.
The emergence of virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs) – Dish-owned Sling TV among them, of course – also played a role in the relegation of the Slingbox.
Slingbox manufacturing was halted years ago
The discontinuance of the Slingbox is not surprising. It's more surprising that it took so long for this day to come.
Word that Sling Media had stopped manufacturing Slingbox units – but would continue to sell units that remained in stock – began to surface in January 2017. Sling Media acknowledged today that most authorized resellers have been out of stock for a couple of years.
It's not clear how many Slingboxes have been sold since the original product was introduced in 2005 by the late Blake Krikorian, who died tragically in August 2016, and his brother, Jason. Satellite Business News estimated in January 2017 that about 2 million Slingbox units have been sold. I've asked Dish (EchoStar acquired Sling Media in 2007 for $380 million) for shipment or sales figures for the Slingbox and what will happen to Dish satellite DVR receivers with built-in Slingboxes as the servers are taken offline a couple of years from now.
Update: Dish is not disclosing the number of sold or still-active Slingboxes, but the company confirmed that the change coming to retail Slingboxes will have no impact on Dish's Hopper set-tops enabled with Sling technology.
Slingboxes, the kluge that they are, have played a role
I have owned three Slingbox models over the years, including the original model (it retailed for $249 back in the day) and, most recently, the M2. They've all been collecting dust in recent years. I did install one at my parents' house in Colorado back in 2011 at the start of what would become a five-year sojourn to Philadelphia.
I recall giving my parents strict instructions to avoid breathing on, let alone touching, my little set up – which involved connecting the Slingbox to a router using a pair of HomePlug adapters – for fear that they'd mess something up and I'd have to walk them through putting techno-Humpty Dumpty back together again.
That little gizmo did its job dutifully for years, allowing me to watch Denver Broncos games when they were not carried locally there (which was most weeks), and gave me a bit more to latch onto beyond the live look-ins provided by NFL RedZone. But now I can't recall the last time I used my M2 model, which I didn't even bother to connect when I moved into my current home nearly five years ago.
Slingbox and baseball
When word got around that Slingbox manufacturing was coming to an end back in 2017, Jason Krikorian posted on Facebook that he was "slightly bummed" about the news, but was likewise "amazed that the product was still being produced 10 years after the acquisition ... [T]he Slingbox had a good run."
Indeed. But more than three years later, it's now clear that the Slingbox's run is about to enter the home stretch.
Those who followed the Slingbox story from the beginning also know that the Krikorian brothers were inspired to create the Slingbox by their desire to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV when they were on the road.
And that technology, as it turns out, would come in supremely handy. As Blake Krikorian recounted to me in an interview in 2011 (unfortunately the entirety of that interview is no longer posted here on Light Reading, but I still have the unedited transcript), he watched his beloved Giants clinch the 2010 World Series on his smartphone – connected to a Slingbox, of course.
"I was thinking, you know, if anything, I'm so happy that we made this product because I was able to enjoy this," he told me. "But it was hilarious because when they won, the 30 people around us were jumping up and down and screaming and hugging each other. But at this benefit concert they had a bunch of older bands and stuff and Billy Idol was on stage. I don't think Billy Idol was very good, but there was this moment when he got this tremendous applause and I'm convinced he thought his career was possibly renewed at this show. Little did he know that it was this group of folks who were cheering that the Giants won the Series."
The Krikorian brothers' presumptive sports-oriented use-case was spot-on, as catching my favorite teams on the go was what drove my Slingbox usage – back when, you know, I was still using it at all.
The more things change...
Back in 2005, the Slingbox put a bit of a scare in the cable industry with respect to their video and broadband businesses.
Michael Harris, the founder of Cable Digital News (sold to Light Reading in 2006), had a prescient understanding of what the Slingbox would mean to the cable industry when it was first foisted upon the world. The Slingbox, he wrote here on LR, "is yet another innovative 'over-the-top' product that leverages cable programming and the broadband IP pipe that will spook MSOs ... This technology, if bundled with digital cable and high-speed data service, could be a powerful consumer offering. MSOs need to get their arms around the programming rights issues and figure out how to offer it directly to subscribers."
The original Slingbox also caused the cable industry to worry about its weak upstream capacity and forced some network engineers to give more thought to the deployment of and support for DOCSIS 2.0, a version of DOCSIS that offered a little bit of assistance in that area. However, Slingbox never was adopted widely enough by consumers to create a huge, immediate issue for the cable industry.
But, fast-forwarding to 2020, and the cable upstream is getting plenty of attention again during a pandemic that has forced people to work and school from home and tap into upstream-intensive apps such as videoconferencing at historic levels.
The Slingbox may be nearing its final days, but many of the ideas and technologies it helped to spawn – from SVoD streaming services, "TV Everywhere" apps and vMVPD services, to an upstream-enhancing platform like DOCSIS 4.0 – will continue to live on.
- EchoStar to Buy Sling Media
- CableLabs Certifies Secret Slingbox Gear
- Q&A: Sling Media Founder Blake Krikorian
- Slingbox Getting Ready to Roll
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading