This article was originally published via The Guardian Media Network.
Every now and then new services are introduced and make us change our behaviours so quickly that we almost forget that things were ever different. It’s those “did we really” moments that you have when trying to recall life before that service or product appeared. For example, did we really used to buy a whole CD just to get access to a single song? Did we really spend a fortune on DVDs only to watch them once or twice? Did we really agree to pay for hundreds of TV channels, only to watch the 10 we really care about? Oh, wait. We still do.
But the new age is already here in some shape or form. It’s called Sling TV – an over-the-top (OTT) TV service introduced by US satellite provider Dish that lets US users stream 12 live channels on multiple devices for $20 a month. This may not sound that groundbreaking. It may even sound like a bad deal. But almost a month after its launch, it’s safe to say that Sling TV is an important milestone for Americans who yearn for days when live TV will be as easy and cheap to consume as Netflix and Spotify.
Here’s why Sling TV is a milestone in this new era of TV experiences.
ESPN has left the box
The most significant draw of Sling is its sports channels: ESPN and ESPN2 (more sport channels are expected to be made available for an extra $5). Live sports were always the missing piece from any TV service that isn’t cable, as there have been no bargains, no easy shortcuts (read: not easy to pirate). However, Sling TV users can finally get access to live sports for cheap and they also get some control. For example, the local ESPN channels will usually only carry the games of the local team. But what if I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan living in NYC? There’s also the issue of blackouts in local markets. Sling TV could potentially help with both. Making sports more user- and budget-friendly is key to the future of OTT TV.
Disney is an agent of change
Since content is the most important piece in TV services, the Hollywood studios can determine the success or failure of any new service. Disney, which owns ESPN, the Disney channels and ABC, made four of its channels available on Sling TV. It also offers shortform content from Maker Studios, a network of YouTube creators that it acquired last year. If you add this to Disney’s apparent plans to offer a streaming service based on Marvel superheroes and a series of web shortsbased on Star Wars, we are seeing a Hollywood giant making very bold moves in the digital space.
Dish is going after the 18-34 demographic that is moving away from traditional live paid TV. Some say this trend is happening at a stunning rate. According toDisney CEO, Bob Iger: “Dish’s Sling TV is designed to reach an estimated 12m households that subscribe to broadband, but not pay TV … We believe it’s a worthwhile experiment [to] try to convince younger people to sign up to cable when they either wouldn’t have signed up for it at all or might have waited.” In other words, Dish is trying to re-educate young viewers that there is a price point in which paying for TV can make sense, just like Netflix and Spotify make sense.
Re-educating device manufactures
TV devices are everywhere but they don’t seem to make our lives that much easier.
AppleTV is iOS only. Amazon is for Amazon customers. Chromecast has limited capabilities. The Google Nexus TV is tightly integrated with Google Play. Sony PlayStation has its own streaming service too. Wouldn’t it be great to have a piece of hardware that serves the consumer and not the manufacture’s eco-system? Sling TV takes a wide approach, just like Netflix, making it available on all these devices along with native iOS and Android apps. This is how TV in the 21st century should work.
As promising as it is, Sling TV still has a way to go, especially when it comes to time shifted capabilities like rewinding live events and cloud DVR. This is where Dish could have captured the full essence of millennial TV viewers, but that would compete too much with its existing satellite service (and would compromise the entire industry’s business model). However, this is a feature that can easily be added later. When this will happen, we will find ourselves wondering “did we really not have cloud DVR on our internet TV service”?
When that day comes, our TV world will be a very different place.