At a time when monthly cable bills have climbed well north of $100, Dish is ushering in a new era of cheaper, skinnier TV bundles.
With its soft launch of Sling TV, Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) has introduced a $20-per-month solution that is neither a high-end cable competitor, nor a low-end Netflix knock-off. Instead, Sling TV is something in between; a low-commitment live TV package targeted primarily at sports fans. (See Dish Slings OTT Service – What It Means.)
For the next couple of weeks, Sling TV will be available on a rolling basis to consumers who pre-register on the website. After that, anyone will be able to sign up. Users will have the option of starting with a one-week free trial, or buying service that's packaged with a device.
Details on the latter offering haven't been announced yet, but it's a good bet that Roku Inc. hardware will be involved. When Dish sent out free trial credentials to early reviewers of Sling TV (including this reporter), a loaner Roku 3 unit came as part of the deal.
The big draw for Sling TV, as many have pointed out, is access to ESPN and ESPN2. Not only do many people love watching sports; they love watching sports live, and live viewing is a big part of Sling TV. Users may miss being able to pause or rewind content on the ESPN networks (trick-play features are available for other channels), but for the cheap price tag, it's probably not a deal-breaker. And while there's currently no on-demand video available from ESPN, VoD is far less important for sports than it is for other types of content.
Other than sports, Sling TV primarily offers kids content, news stations and reality TV. There are both linear and VoD options for non-sports channels, and the service includes a decent-sized library of on-demand movies available for purchase. Dish is also introducing additional genre-specific packages for $5 per month. Initially those add-on packages include "Kids Extra" and "News & Info Extra".
What's most interesting about Sling TV is that, at a time when many service providers are focusing on adding features and promoting a high-end experience, Dish is doing exactly the opposite. Dish has stripped its service down and is attempting to draw customers in with a core, targeted content offering. There's no DVR available. Video sometimes stutters and buffers. And channel-change delay is noticeable.
The approach is not unlike that of Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX). Streaming video over Netflix isn't perfect, but because it has enough good content and a bargain-basement price, viewers have flocked to the service anyway. The difference with Sling TV is that Dish is upping the ante. The price has gone up, but so has the value of the programming.
While Dish is the first service provider to launch and strongly promote a skinnier pay-TV bundle, it won't be the last. Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) (a programmer, but one that aggregates content like a service provider) has its own over-the-top video service waiting in the wings, and research firm Parks Associates expects "several other players to launch or announce services in the US market in the next few months." (See Parks Predicts HBO OTT Success.)
Pretty soon, there won't only be a high-end pay-TV service market anymore. Pay-TV service bundles will emerge at a wider range of price points, and once that happens, more existing pay-TV operators will want to compete for audiences at every level.
This is just the beginning of the new television wave. There's plenty more to come.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading