AirTV Streams Local Channels Directly Into Sling TV

Dave Zatz —  April 15, 2016

airtv-guide2

Bypassing content licensing, Sling TV may soon cram customer’s local television channels directly into the company’s pay TV service via a small set-top box and antenna.

Last summer, I came across a curious Echostar trademark application for “AirTV” which was later discovered to be a pedestrian new Slingbox out of Echo’s Sling Media subsidiary. However, given a well-timed tip, from a trusted source alerting me to incoming Sling Media hardware, that coincides with a lifting of the FCC’s short-term confidentiality, an audacious game plan has now been revealed.

By and large, the challenge in licensing over-the-top streaming content has not been in securing a gaggle of traditional “cable” channels. Rather, it’s in bundling the national networks (think: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) due to their legion of regional affiliates – who expect to be compensated in cash and/or broadcast of their local advertising. The cost and logistical challenge in brokering these relationships is immense, as demonstrated by Sony recently scaling back the PlayStation Vue television service and, perhaps, given the M.I.A. Apple TV offering.

airtv-guide1

Well, DISH Network subsidiary Sling TV and Echostar subsidiary Sling Media have collaborated on what looks to be an effective and novel end-around in “AirTV.”

AirTV is essentially an over-the-air Slingbox that repurposes existing M1 streaming hardware by adding an OTA tuner and, most interestingly, replaces a Slingbox client app with the Sling TV experience. (Further — where the stylized “slingbox” text was once embossed up top, now resides a more restrained “AirTV.”) So, one would hook up the AirTV to an antenna and one’s home network via WiFi or Ethernet and that local television content would be beamed directly into the Sling TV app – at home or while on the move. I’ll go ahead and assume the ultimate goal here is for the OTA channels from one’s residence to be co-located amongst the pay television channels of Sling TV’s $20 streaming service in a unified guide.

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My industry insider tipster indicates Sling Media is preparing multiple non-traditional Slingbox products. So, given this AirTV model’s headless presentation, I can envision another version with HDMI output so both OTA and Sling TV premium content could be displayed from a television, at the source – versus, say, requiring another Amazon Fire TV purchase. Further, I’m left with the sense that Sling Media may once again be testing the television app waters after a tepid Slingbox 500 reception.

While this hybrid streaming television service sounds great, it doesn’t exactly feature Aereo-like simplicity. Unlike Aereo, ingesting the locals requires good HDTV reception at home and some technical know-how — as with all prior Slingbox solutions, there’s a certain amount of complexity. The challenge will be educating consumers as to AirTV’s value while overcoming installation and home bandwidth realities. Also, while this does appear to be a killer solution, we don’t yet know the hardware cost or if any additional add-on fees will be required, as Sling TV has shown a propensity for. Further, while this appears to provide a solid offering of live television, we have no word yet of DVR cloud storage.

airtv-iphoneThe other significant obstacle is Sling’s, in their media relationships. Should the companies move forward with this, and certainly recent Sling TV iPhone app and Android code updates indicate development continues, they risk alienating partners like Fox and ABC (owners of Disney and ESPN). But, by the same token, AirTV could improve their negotiating power.

Addendum

The interplay between Echostar and DISH Network is exceedingly incestuous complex, and possibly of little interest to most. But, for the sake of completeness, here’s a bit of the back story. Years ago, the Charlie Ergen corporate entity behind DISH satellite television split into two companies – DISH Network, as largely the consumer pay television side of the house, and EchoStar, serving as the hardware branch – with customers including, but beyond, DISH. This restructuring went down about the time that Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox, was acquired and they landed under Echostar. Fast forward a number of years with DISH Network poised to launch an online streaming subsidiary and service, under the name nuTV, returned to the drawing board and reportedly worked a deal with Echostar subsidiary Sling Media in which they transferred “Sling” and “Sling TV” trademarks while vacating the sling.com domain to launch under Sling TV. Now these two are at it again, as this Sling Media Echostar hardware… feeds content into the Sling TV DISH Network service.

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31 responses to AirTV Streams Local Channels Directly Into Sling TV

  1. Scott G. Lewis April 15, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Makes me think that despite heir new ‘beta multi stream’ offering they are not optimistic about these negotiations. You can now get three streams at once and Fox, plus Fox regional sports channels but you give up ESPN to get it.

    I wonder how much is them not wanting to hurt their standing because of the much larger satellite business and perhaps how much is the app running anywhere.

    Sony’s offering really doesn’t move – mobile app viewing is limited and you can’t take your Fire TV or PS app on the road without risking cancellation. Maybe that keeps the affiliates happy?

  2. More fun trivia as the companies potentially move forward… Sling Media owns airtv.net and their VP of marketing set up a Twitter account under @airtvus.

  3. “The other significant obstacle is Sling’s, in their media relationships … they risk alienating partners like Fox and ABC”

    That was my first thought on the news. If they go forward with this, gotta think that when it’s time to renegotiate contracts, Fox and Disney will laugh them out of the room.

    Time-Warner will be their only friend. (They don’t seem to have any current relationship with NBC/Universal, and that certainly won’t change if they go forward with this.)

  4. This is very similar to Tablo…, an OTA tuner that hooks into your network,and has it’s own a guide and DVR functionality via an external hard drive plugged into it via USB. I have that setup at home and am quite happy with it.

  5. Similar in the sense it beams OTA, as does HDHomeRun and others. But what makes AirTV/SlingTV unique is that you get a single interface/experience for both OTA streamed from your home alongside “cable” television streamed from the cloud. The Tablo app, for comparison, presents only OTA content. Having said that, we too are big fans of Tablo and the DVR functionality actually sets it apart from this new solution – as far as we know, anyway.

  6. Without DVR features this is a non stater for me. It’s not that hard for me to switch to my TV’s input and get local feeds.

  7. Can anyone explain why this makes any sense? From what I understand it’s an antenna. You can buy an antenna that connects directly to your TV and gets all the over the air channels without having to subscribe to Sling. Why would anyone buy this gadget?

  8. I have a Slingbox HD pro which has a built-in ATSC tuner. I’m good.

  9. HeyRadar, in the Android code sample I linked, ‘DVR’ was mentioned twice. But I can’t tell you if it means what we want it to mean, foreshadowing some sort of cloud storage service.

    Ron, if you wanted a single interface for all your TV, OTA and pay, and appreciate a rich guide, it might offer have some value. Also, there are folks who watch television in multiple rooms, multiple locations, and via multiple device types – like tablets.

    Also some clarification on my source and intel. I was alerted to new, non-traditional Slingbox hardware out of Echostar – not specifically AirTV. I turned up more detail on AirTV during the course of my investigation and even think it’s possible the initiative could be cancelled given partner risk and the sort of questions we’re fielding… however, those recent Android and iPhone code references seem to suggest otherwise.

  10. “HeyRadar, in the Android code sample I linked, ‘DVR’ was mentioned twice. But I can’t tell you if it means what we want it to mean”

    Perhaps one of the following?

    Data validation and reconciliation
    Derwent Valley Railway
    Devco Railway
    Differential Voting Right
    Digital video recorder
    Discrete valuation ring
    Discrete variable representation
    Distance-vector routing
    Direct volume rendering
    Dynamic voltage restoration

  11. So the AirTVUS Twitter account cited in the guide looks to have been deleted today and the similarly referenced airtv.net domain registration seems to have gone anonymous.

    https://twitter.com/davezatz/status/721122733569007617

    Covering their tracks ahead of some big reveal, a change in marketing plans, or an outright cancellation? Like I said, decent risk here in terms of ruffling partner feathers and reaching an audience…

  12. I have been able to do this with my Tivo for a while now. Not only I can watch the TV shows I like on my TV, but also in any tablet of phone in the house (only local network access is allowed). I can always download those shows to my tablet if I want to watch them on the go. So, yeah, I’ll keep my current setup, thank you very much.

  13. I don’t think Dish is leaving Disney or Fox out of the loop on this Plan. If anyone remembers the Dish Hopper hoopla. Both Disney, and Fox had a Fit on the Commercial Skipping. So much so Disney channels were all SD only for a Period on Dish, and Fox had a Carriage dispute with Dish. So if Sling Goes with this Air TV thing Fox and Disney will probably know about it before it is officially announced by Sling. And dish more than likely will not use Air TV in a Wrong way. As I said Before Hopper Commercial Skipping was a Major issue so Dish is not going to make the Mistake they Did Before with Air TV. I have a Feeling if you have Air TV and live in a City with O and O ABC/Fox Stations the Sling TV Software may Block the Antenna feed of said Station, and run the net Streamed Station from Sling. So Disney or Fox don’t go into a Carriage dispute with Sling. Some subscribers may not like that Idea. But with how picky these Media Companies are. Don’t blame Sling. Also this maybe the only Resolution to the Problem. Most Broadcasters only will work with Cable and satellite Provider’s for Carriage. Nexstar, Tribune, and other Broadcasting companies only want there feeds to go through two Places you Cable, Satellite Provider, or the local Antenna. I mean on of them is invested in a OTA DVR maker for Crying out loud. This may resolve a lot of IPTV issues.

  14. “I have a Feeling if you have Air TV and live in a City with O and O ABC/Fox Stations the Sling TV Software may Block the Antenna feed of said Station”

    Not only about the O & O affiliates…

    “And dish more than likely will not use Air TV in a Wrong way.”

    This isn’t about “wrong way” or prior notice. This is purely about taking money out of the pockets of Fox and Disney.

    And assuming the current contracts with Sling TV are firm for their duration, there won’t be an immediate impact. It’s only when those contracts expire and need to be extended that Disney and Fox will laugh Sling TV out of the room.

    (I really don’t care about either side. I’m not talking about who is “in the right”. I’m just talking about commercial realities.)

  15. Chuck you I am not in Disagreement with you. But I hope the Content Creators know if they don’t try to Laugh at Dish/Sling out of the room over this Air TV thing they will not be facing the Wrath of Viewers. As long as the Subscriber is pulling in the Broadcast Channels from there own Antenna they should be fine. I even think this box will be a DVR with external Hard Drive. Now as a Sling tv Subscriber and Disney Removes it’s cable Channels over Air TV. Sling Subscribers will not be getting Mad at Sling. Disney may get angry letters from Sling Subs. I mean Disney Set a Subscriber limit or other caveats on there Sling Contract. ESPN met some of the Ceveats, and Disney Did not Remove the Channels. ABC may own the network, but for example my local affiliate is owned by Nexstar Broadcasting. I mean CBS all Access has to negotiate with one of there non OandO affiliates and they own CBS. I mean as long as Dish does not go all aero like on air tv they will be fine. Air TV in my opinion will be like Simple TV just combined with the Sling TV Software. From what I hear these Broadcasters will not even sit with Sony, or Dish on the car rage Negotiations for Vue or Sling. Because of Stuff like Aereo E.T.C. as long as Dish can find away around this the legal way it should be fine. Disney, or Fox will face a lot of Backlash because a lot of cord Cutters cut the Cord cause cable Broadcast fee’s were so High.

  16. “As long as the Subscriber is pulling in the Broadcast Channels from there own Antenna they should be fine”

    Yup. And they will be fine, with great access to OTA and paid programming options from Time-Warner.

    “Sling Subscribers will not be getting Mad at Sling.”

    Agreed. No one will get mad at anybody. No one gets mad at Sling TV or NBC/Universal because that programming isn’t currently available. No one gets mad at Amazon or Apple because they can’t get Prime on an Apple TV. That’s not how these things work.

    However, most folks will cancel Sling TV if all the Disney and Fox programming disappears, which is the trade-off Sling TV is going to have to figure out before they proceed.

    It’s not personal. It’s just business.

  17. I wish TiVo had done an add-on box for TiVo Roamio. I know the OTA and their low end version had a tuner. But the high end one with six cable tuners did not. I’d love to have a tuner connectable to the TiVo via ethernet because the cable package I have does not carry all the local channels I could receive over the air. Why not just use the TV’s tuner? The TV isn’t located where an antenna would work well and yeah, I don’t like switching inputs. And I want to be able to record it.

  18. My question is what does this do to things like XBOX One who is bringing a OTA DVR to one guide. Or other types of things like it.

  19. rayfay1999, forgive the long post,
    Some clarifications:
    1. Charlie Ergen is the last person who cares about “ruffling feathers.” He has been doing that since day one of Dish [Network]. Charlie Ergen is the ONLY media CEO to have, long ago (we’re talking YEARS), publically stated that he SUPPORTS the A la Carte model of pay-TV for his and all MVPD’s–and testified before Congress saying so, but he is prohibited from doing so, as are his competitors, by the media companies. This is because, that while Mr. Ergen is about his business making money, he is probably the ONLY media CEO who actually listens to his customers, and has a business philosophy of “giving the customer what they want.” Its no civil rights issue to Charlie Ergen, its about GOOD BUSINESS, and, in fact, better business. But this is a concept that evades just about every other media CEO who seem to have a philosophy of paranoia and ignorance regarding new tech and adapting to a changing world with new, undiscoverd, ways of making money with their products. Ergen embraces change, even if it is only because he knows that if he does not, he will be out of business. Ergen was the FIRST of all offerings and ONLY cable or sat co (DirecTV now to copy his lead) to launch an on-line linear TV service because that’s what the customer wants, and its good business, too. or at least Ergen can see that it is. While he may be hard to work for, this guy has the best understanding of what people WANT and then he tries to give it to them, such as DVR’s back in 1999 and then FREE DVR’s by 2001, Hoppers, auto commercial skipping, and now the 16 tuner Hopper 3 or just lowest priced options of any MVPD. Even Rupert Murdoch called Charlie Ergen “the best in the business.” Dish had been trying for YEARS to get the on-line service started, but the media companies kept believing that it would destroy the far more lucrative agreements it has with MVPD’s. It was Ergen who finally persuaded them to think differently, after SlingTV, now the media companies are gladly working with Sony, and soon to come DirecTV’s version of SlingTV. Charlie Ergen may be no saint, but he knows where the world is headed. Dish broke the barrier that is now resulting in more choice and more than one on-line linear TV service, not just SlingTV.

    2. Disney channels on Dish offered only in SD had nothing to do with the commerical skipping feature named AutoHop. A few years before the Hopper and AutoHop even existed, Dinsey was the only media company who eventually demanded additional payments for its channels in HD for all MVPD’s, breaking with standard industry practrice. Dish, citing terms of its retrans agreement (or, as Dish saw it, Disney attempting to “change” the written agreement), refused to pay extra for HD (uh, others did pay) and kept airing Disney owned channles (local channels were outside of this disagreement) in HD. Disney sued for a big chunk of money and in the preliminary phase obtained a restraining order barring Dish from airing 4 of Disney’s owned channels in HD (losing ESPNNews in HD was a big blow :)) until either a settlment or results of the trial. Years later, at the next retrans negotiation with the trial soon to start, the two kissed and made-up with, perhaps, Disney needing Dish a bit more than the other way round. The result was that Disney was fine with AutoHop so long as C3 was observed; Disney accepted FAR LESS money than was calculated per additional amount (greatly reduced to a chump change “damages” amount) for the period Dish aired the HD feeds; Disney allowed Dish to air the remaining 3 Disney owned channels (ESPENNews had since died) in HD; and Disney got its first, desperately needed MVPD to offer ESPN’s Longhorn TV, which had trouble creating interest until Dish agreed to offer it. Then a load of cross promotion of Dish and Dinsney media properties. Charlie Ergen and Disney Chairman/CEO Bob Iger have an excellent personal relationship and they personally negotiated with each other much of the broad terms of the agreement. They each have a respect for how the the other has handled their companies. In reference to the new landscape of TV and content owners attempting to adapt to it, Charile Ergen was asked, “What advice do you have for Bob Iger?” Ergen responded, “I ask Bob Iger for advice.”

    3. Yes, NBC/Universal is the last holdout on AutoHop lawsuit, but only because it was last of the retrans agreements to expire. Neither Dish nor NBC/U want disruption, but both want something out of the next agreement. Look for the NBC/U retrans agreement to result in the pretty much the same as the previous 3 agreements whose parties were plaintiffs: dropping of AutoHop lawsuit (doomed to fail as per 9th Circuit); additions of NBC/U contnet on SlingTV (and perhaps a new channel or two on Dish NBC/U has wanted and needs); at least a C7 obervance by Dish for AutoHop; and generally new love and romantic cross promotions because of all the money both Dish and the media company will make because of the agreement.

    4. AutoHop was no “mistake” nor anything bad for Dish, the media companies, nor anyone. As many of us suspected, AutoHop seems to have been an insturment of leverage for Dish with the big media companies who own the broadcast O&O’s. While, at first, the media companies went into a frenzy with CBS CEO Les Mooves leading the howls by having what looked like public Kanipshins on the matter; damaging CNET’s journalistic credibility (CNET was REMOVED by CES as being a part of CES Best of Awards); intimidating actors in CBS properties who dared be a spokesperson for Dish; and vowing to “KILL” AutoHop, and stating that it can’t be allowed to exist, CBS’s Les Mooves and all but NBC/U (who are currently in negotioations with Dish) dropped their lawsuits (which they could not win; read the 9th Cuircut’s ruling on upholding a denial premliminary injunction) with a C7 (C3 for Disney) observance upon the next retreans agreement and further agreed to have their content and channels available on SlingTV, and all other sorts of kisses with no damage occuring to either Dish or the Media companies. It was a whole lot of nothing, except great press for Dish as it is for TiVo and its commercial skipping feature. Considering how calm, business-like, and mutually benificial the new agreements with Dish and new agreements with SlingTV have been, one would never have known the media companies blew a gasket a few years ago. But that’s what new business deals with more money for each side to make can do in corporate America. How nice the path was cleared for TiVo who really need a game changing feature like auto commerical skip

    5. Nothing aint going nowhere that MONEY can’t fix:

    a. Yes, there is a cap on the number of subscribers for SlingTV imposed by the various media companies, but that was because the media companies were spooked by the idea of losing subscribers from their far more lucrative per subscriber rate at cable and sat cos, and SlingTV was their FIRST toe in the pool. However, this does not mean that the media companies won’t either increase or remove the cap on SlingTV subscribers on their own or, perhaps more likely, simpley accept MORE MONEY in exchange for increasing or dropping the subscriber limit. That’s business! If it makes sense to both sides, it will be done. And now that Dish has SlingTV revenue and the media companies have revenue from SlingTV agreements, neither wants those revenues to end. In fact, as per quarterly conference, SlingTV has said to expect more channels, new guide, multi-streaming, more on-demand, longer periods of availablity for on-demand content, and some type of “DVR functionality,” but who knows what “DVR functionality” really means. Essentially, all the things SlingTV subscribers, former subscribers and detractors have been asking. But, I’m sure SlingTV still has a ways to go.

    b. no one is goint to “laugh” anyone “out of the room.” It’s no lauging matter to either party. This is business. The media companies want never-ending payments from the MVPD’s such as Dish. MVPD’s such as Dish want the content without interruption and continied access to the best content at the best possible price. That is the ideal, anyway. Instead, each side will be trying to find a way to be either be compensated (not always just about money, but other matters) or allowed MORE content in MORE PLACES (such as more digital rights and at OTT linear TV services and multi-streaming, etc.). Dish needs more content on its SlingTV along with on-demand access and talk of DVR capability of some kind at SlingTV. The media companies always seem to have a new channel or two they REALLY need on a service and/or really want their channel position moved to a more populated “neighborhood” on an MVPD to provide momentum for that channel. Each side will give and take, and from that comes an agreement. The only laughter is after all have signed the contracts, and they all laugh WITH each other. And if there are lawsuits, that is BUSINESS, and it is good business to hammer out some agreement post lawsuit than see things in court–better for BOTH sides. Charlie Ergen and Tom Rogers remained very good friends throughout the entire TiVo vs. Echsotar DVR patent lawsuit with Ergen joking, after just wiring the first payment of their negotiated settlement (TiVo could not afford to wait for a conclusion to the appeals–even facing, possibly, a whole NEW trial), that he expected “Tom” to pay for lunch the next time they meet. Why? Because that is business!

    Business. That is all any of this is, and it is a lot LESS personal than one may be led to believe. These companies don’t hold grudges like your neighbors; they love a good business deal and money, and will love you for it, no matter how negative a business relationship they may have had with you just an hour ago. Each side has some leverage, but neither side can really afford to go without the other for very long, maybe the MVPD’s could get by longer, but not the media companies.

  20. I worked at Slingbox several months ago on that product and I’m surprised it has not been launched yet. I just noticed there are many Dish and Slingbox execs that have AirTV handles on Twitter. I wonder if this product will ever get released.

  21. At the same Time Sling TV seems to be interested in embracing Antenna TV. IE Sling app on Channel Master DVR. Deal for Discounts with RCA on Antenna. We will see what Happens though. I think ether way local Stations need to be on sling in some way.

  22. HarryKerryJR though my question is if this Air TV thing happens. What will that do. I see Disney Sticking around. Because as Igar said Recently Disney is Bullish on Skinny Bundles. I’m more Unsure about Fox. I think though air tv is nothing like Aereo. So said Companies will probably be ok. The comment about Disney, and Fox laughing Sling TV out of the room at Renegotiate was not me. Another Person Said it. It was the same Talking Points on other Tech and Entertainment news Sites. This Story was even on Variety.

  23. “I see Disney Sticking around. Because as Igar said Recently Disney is Bullish on Skinny Bundles.”

    Complete apples and oranges. Bullish on Skinny Bundles ≠ Being OK with Selling to Service who’s helping folks avoid affiliate retrans fees.

    The fact they they dipped their toes into the very shallow water with Sling TV in the first place = Bullish on Skinny Bundles. But this is different.

  24. Too bad about the non-existent Slingplayer app for Apple TV. When they moved the model from streaming using in-home bandwidth, to streaming from their CDNs, I think they discovered the whole model wasn’t profitable. They really should have offered subscriptions for Slingbox streaming via Slingplayer.com vs. connecting directly to the box.

    Seems like Sling has completely given up on the software side, only interested in clearing the channel for hardware.

  25. Interesting, but I have my solution with a 4-Tuner Roamio receiving an antenna feed and Playstation Vue for the cable channels we want. A moca network, Tivo Mini, and Tivo Stream take care of all of our needs in house. What has been overlooked with Vue is that you have access to the streaming apps of the cable networks included in your package for out of home Vue’ing.

  26. Scott G. Lewis April 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    A Vue app on TiVo OTA would be pretty darn compelling. I’d jump back into the TiVo ecosystem is a heartbeat.

  27. With TiVo about ready to unveil an OTA-only Bolt, they really need either Sling TV or PS Vue…

  28. Sony (which sells Android-powered TVs and phones) should put out their own set-top box. Call it “SonyStream powered by Android TV”. Stick an OTA tuner in it and use their existing PS Vue interface for watching (plus pausing and rewinding) live OTA TV, with free program guide info. Of course embedded ads would push users to also subscribe to the PS Vue cable streaming service, with those additional live channels plus cloud DVR getting added right into the same UI you already use for free OTA TV. They could also have apps for their free Crackle streaming video service, their PlayStation TV streaming game service, their PlayStation Video on-demand service and their new Ultra on-demand service (assuming the box can handle 4K). Along with all that, you’d also have access to the full Google Play store with all those video, music, and game apps, plus an Android TV version of Amazon Video (which is generally unavailable but Sony has already negotiated access to it for their Android TV-powered smart TVs). And full GoogleCast/ChromeCast compatibility since it’s all just Android TV with a slightly reskinned Sony UI and their own custom universal remote for controlling the box, TV and receiver/sound bar. THAT is something I’d buy.

  29. Hi there! Any updates on this? I like Sling TV but the addition of local channels would absolutely make it my go to TV provider…hope this does come to fruition at some pointN

  30. @Ron:
    “Can anyone explain why this makes any sense? From what I understand it’s an antenna. You can buy an antenna that connects directly to your TV and gets all the over the air channels without having to subscribe to Sling. Why would anyone buy this gadget?”

    So that Sling TV users can ‘add’ local channels to their service without having to pay for them (and so that Dish can ‘offer’ local channels through Sling without having to kick money up to the broadcast dinosaurs)….

  31. I’d love to know if there is any new information on this as well. The AirTV sounds like a great solution if it works as expected. I don’t care about the antenna that comes with it as i’m sure it’s vastly inferior to my attic antenna but the box sounds indispensable for getting local channels everywhere I need it.