Despite Branding Confusion, Slingbox Lives On

Dave Zatz —  January 7, 2015

slingtv

Update: As an update to the original story below, I just had a call (or two or three) with Echostar’s Sling Media and their reps. They want to assure us that Slingbox ain’t going anywhere — in fact, they mentioned DISH CEO Joe Clayton stated as much during the press conference that introduced the new Sling TV. What’s happened is that DISH has licensed “Sling” and “Sling TV” from Echostar, who has vacated sling.com, and the Slingbox 500 that became the Sling TV reverts once again to the Slingboox 500. (Although, irrespective of name, I remain concerned with 500/STV sales and continue to recommend their equally capable M1 placeshifter at half the cost for those with a need.)

Possibly the most disruptive product announcement out of CES this week is DISH’s long foreshadowed Internet television service. And, amongst several surprises, is “Sling TV” branding. I guess it’s nice that DISH chose to repurpose the sling.com Echostar asset… as you’d be horrified to learn what we had paid for that URL. Having said that, it certainly clocked in far less than the questionable “Blockbuster” acquisition — a name which would have made a lot of sense in this space. At the very least, we’re glad to see they backed away from DishWorld and an awful “nuTV“.

But, where it gets real weird is that the Slingbox 500 was renamed… Sling TV… less than six months ago. While I was not impressed with that product at its inflated price point, saying goodbye is hard and I suspect this clearly last minute change-up foreshadows the death of at least one Slingbox. If not all of them.

By the by, the companies have been riffing on “Sling TV” for years. Here’s what it looked like back in 2009.

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38 responses to Despite Branding Confusion, Slingbox Lives On

  1. Random thoughts…

    Last spring I’d wondered if they might use “Blockbuster” versus “DishWorld” … as Roku kept cranking out remotes with those buttons.

    https://zatznotfunny.com/2014-03/roku-streaming-stick-now-shipping/#comment-4179

    Also, does anyone know where Echostar ends and DISH begins??

    Regarding the Sling TV service itself, I’m still percolating. The price point is much lower than I’d expected… but so are the number of streaming partners. Whereas an Xbox client at launch was a surprise and huge win for them. Will be interesting to see how Sling TV is received by real people (versus pundits). And, of course, DISH is just the first of several who will go down this path.

  2. I suspect the current Fox News v. Dish Network fight has as much to do with where Fox channels fit into Sling TV as it does with carriage fees. Given the current buzz over Sling TV, I predict they’ll come to terms by the end of the month, with FX and FXX joining the primary lineup, Fox News in the News bundle, and Fox Sports 1 and 2 in the Sports bundle with ESPNU and ESPNews.

    Also, I wrote up a guide to help potential customers figure out if Sling TV is right for them. Here’s a link.

    http://www.whatyoupayforsports.com/2015/01/is-sling-tv-right-for-you-a-guide-for-potential-cord-cutters/

  3. DISH opened the door, now that they’re doing it everybody else will be forced to follow. Expect to see unbundled channels, or smaller/focused-bundles, coming really soon. With internet streaming.

    Unfortunately this particular offering is primarily livetv and doesn’t offer any DVR functionality, so it’s not super attractive. But that will come too; if not from DISH then from directv, or verizon, or intel, or google.

  4. I don’t know that Sling TV is killing Sling boxes as much as the plethora of TV Everywhere apps are.

    I rarely dial up my Slingbox when I travel now. I can Cast HBO, Showtime, Starz, Disney Jr and ESPN (among many, many other channels) to the hotel TV and not be reliant at all on my home internet connection.

    TV Everywhere is the ultimate in place shifting, and I don’t need a $250 Slingbox to make it work.

  5. Randy, I didn’t mean the new OTT TV technology/service would be responsible for Slingbox genocide, just that by taking the name “Sling TV” we should assume that at least one Slingbox model of the same name isn’t long for this world. Overall, I generally agree with your points and feel/use the same. Slingbox is more tedious compared to apps like WatchESPN, Netflix, etc and there’s often content that whatever’s on my TiVo can generally wait. But, while my mobile usage may have decreased, I continue to have uses around the home where latency is less of a problem and to power a number of blog projects.

    Rodalpho, And along with it will come more broadband caps, tiers, and overages I’m thinking… the incumbents will ensure they are paid one way or another.

  6. “Will be interesting to see how Sling TV is received by real people (versus pundits).”

    I’ve had it with your rampant bigotry, Dave. Pundits are people. Just like Soylent Green.

    —–

    Broke millennials will scarf up the $28 per month Sling TV / Netflix package. (Note how specifically the programming in the basic Sling package is geared toward millennials.)

    Broke parents with kids could be tempted too, but once your start adding on the ‘extra packages’, the cost differential between Sling and the multicast starts to diminish.

    In essence, I think this is pretty much a straightforward millennial play, as they’re the folks too broke to sign up for the multicast. (The infamous cable-nevers.)

    And it’ll be a nice party they get enough subscribers to trigger bandwidth caps / tiers from the MSO’s…

  7. “Unfortunately this particular offering is primarily livetv and doesn’t offer any DVR functionality, so it’s not super attractive.”

    Well, that’s exactly why the price point is so low.

    “But (DVR functionality) will come too; if not from DISH then from directv, or verizon, or intel, or google.”

    Only at a significantly higher price point.

  8. Possibly. But if they price it too high people will simply continue with hulu/netflix/piracy.

  9. I think that Sling TV, as currently offered, is a day late and a dollar short. It might have been interesting a couple years ago, but at this point their potential customer base (cord cutters) have already abandoned bundled services in favor of on-demand content either from aggregators (such as Netflix) or from the content providers directly (a still emerging trend).

    The possible exception is sports fans who want live programming without the cost burden of a bunch of other channels, but as Dave sez they may encounter issues with caps, throttling, etc.

  10. “Possibly. But if they price it too high people will simply continue with hulu/netflix/piracy.”

    In the face of the worst US economy for the masses since the 1930’s (by far), multicast subs are essentially flat. In short, contrary to popular opinion, the multicast is actually doing pretty well.

    And, as Dave and I note, if the hulu/netflix/piracy folks move from the margins to approach the mainstream, the monopoly wireline providers will simply strike back and recoup their money elsewhere.

    —–

    Frankly, the most fascinating aspect of all this for me is the gradually widening divergence in actions and interests between the MSO’s and the content companies. That’s the real story here, as far as I’m concerned.

    Don’t know where it all leads, since the content companies can’t deliver to customers without the monopoly MSO’s, but it is fascinating.

    (Of course, if the Dingo In Chief reclassifies data as title ii, and Google then makes good on it’s promise to use telephone poles to deliver FTTH to rural Idaho, monopolies go away, and things could get interesting. But that’s a lot of hoops to get through first…)

  11. Sally come lately January 7, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Of course just picked up a Sling M1 for Xmas to pair with Roamio Pro. Hope it’s not end of Slingboxes. It was easy to hookup and I like it.

  12. The Slingbox SlingTV product could possibly be a receiver for the Sling TV service. They did recently launch the ability to watch YouTube videos through the device, at least. Granted, that’s rather backwards as the Slingbox is designed to send content out of the house and the service is designed to bring it in without a set-top box, but it’s something. It messes with the “no monthly fees” messaging of the product version, though, if you try to sell them together.

    Ultimately, I’d also find it entertaining if Sling TV isn’t compatible with SlingTV.

  13. Jeff, Dishworld is on Sling TV Slingbox hardware as well so it would make sense. But how many do you think they’ve actually moved? Way more important to get those Xbox and Roku clients in play.

  14. Seems like DISH is paranoid, and for good reason. To me this signals no price cuts for actual Satelite TV packages (for what reason I dont know, maybe the overhead is too costly to offer alacarte cheaper options through a satellite subscription. But if satellite tv providers could offer this they probably already would have brought the option to market before this.) They will still offer the same 100-200 channel crap with only 10 channels worth watching and have an outrageous price point for most rural american families, which is who use satellite anyway. Satellite TV is taking major hits due to cable and fiber high speed internet/tv services being offered to more and more small town american homes. Cable and fiber Internet providers will be able to offer internet bundled packages similar to this “DISH Sling package” but much cheaper when combined with internet package. DISH and Directv will be left eating the crums of the market by only having a share of those who live in areas where high speed internet is not offered. And those places are becoming quickly few and far between. Cable will eventually see the same pressures satellite is feeling when bandwith demands exceed its infrastructure capability (who knows when, probably even 4K video will be considered a thing of the past at that point. and of course other markets other than video streaming will affect bandwith usage so its hard to tell what the future holds timetable wise.) Fiber is the future cable is the present and satellite is on life support. All that being said Dave is spot on by stating this could be one of the most disruptive media products to hit consumers in a while. I, just like most everyone else would rather see satellite and cable packaged TV era over and Each individual network offer as needed monthly no-contract packages though smart tv/phone/tablet apps as well as dedicated third party set top boxes/DVR like Tivo and fireTV/roku. NETWORKS are you listening?

  15. “I, just like most everyone else would rather see satellite and cable packaged TV era over and Each individual network offer as needed…”

    Not me! I think ditching the bundle in favor of a-la-carte will result in higher prices for less programming for most, (though not all).

  16. Yeah, my thinking has shifted… content options could shrink as costs increase. But also in some ways I’m reassured. No matter how it shakes out, we will still have good content — Alpha House and Transparent on Amazon (?!) for example have been quite fun.

  17. There was a great article yesterday about “watching what you wish for” when it comes to efficient markets, comparing unbundling TV channels to the airline industry.

    I agree with the thrust of that article; namely that overall service quality will go down (if such a thing is possible for Comcast and TWC) and you’ll be nickel and dimed all over the place (even more than you already are, by Comcast and TWC) but if you know exactly what you want, you _will_ save money.

    For example, I don’t watch sports. At all. Ever. ESPN is a very large portion of cable TV costs. If I can get the networks, USA, FX, travel, BBC, cartoon network, and a handful of others and exclude stuff like ESPN, I would definitely pay less.

    And if they include “cloud DVR” functionality (ie, work like Netflix where you just plain stream the stuff on demand) I would absolutely be willing to pay for that.

  18. The technology exists to do what everyone is asking for (DVR, multiple streams, etc.). It’s always about what’s on the contract between the operator and content provider. I’m sure Dish had to put in some concessions to get Disney to play ball.

  19. “And if they include “cloud DVR” functionality (ie, work like Netflix where you just plain stream the stuff on demand) I would absolutely be willing to pay for that.”

    I dread the potential coming of “cloud DVR’s”, as I think it will surely be used to eliminate comskip.

    —–

    “For example, I don’t watch sports. At all. Ever. ESPN is a very large portion of cable TV costs.”

    Yeah. Sports is obviously the elephant in the bundle. But even how that would play out is uncertain. And it’s not just ESPN! TNT and Fox are also paying big money for sports rights. And so it’s hard to see why Disney or Time Warner or Fox would accede to unbundling sports and still let you get their other channels like broadcast, FX, Cartoon Network, and many others you might want. (Plus USA Network is owned by an MSO, which brings its own non-sports issues.) And let’s not forget the regional / local sports networks.

    In short, sports is where it gets really, really complicated. Entire households who completely don’t want sports would be the most likely beneficiaries of a theoretical totally a-la-carte system, but I’m not sure how we potentially get there. I’d assume that even if a-la-carte gains momentum, it’d wouldn’t be real a-la-carte. Even Sling TV is a weird Disney / Time Warner bundle.

    (And let’s not forget that the whole rationale behind Sling TV is to go in the opposite direction: to get sports to broke millennials on the cheap in exchange for lousy QoS.)

  20. “The technology exists to do what everyone is asking for (DVR, multiple streams, etc.). It’s always about what’s on the contract between the operator and content provider. I’m sure Dish had to put in some concessions to get Disney to play ball…”

    Exactly, as long as networks make more money from providers payout than their potential alacarte clients, contract lingo will prevent the service. However the more cord cutters that get involved individual networks will have bargaining power and Providers will be forced to slash prices, come up with new strategies to keep customers happy, or drop out of the game altogether. I think thats what we are likely seeing happen with satellite tv now and over the coming years. Cable and fiber companies on the other hand have greater potential to gain customers through all of this because either way high speed internet will be a big part of the shift.

    “Yeah, my thinking has shifted… content options could shrink as costs increase. But also in some ways I’m reassured. No matter how it shakes out, we will still have good content — Alpha House and Transparent on Amazon (?!) for example have been quiet fun…”

    You highlighted the best part of this. As a consumer content will get better because all the crap shows will get cut and that packaged channel 9,874 KnittingNetwork will no longer be getting my money. Unless of course I choose to subscribe :)

  21. The killer feature for Sling TV is obviously ESPN. Although I have to admit I’m confused as to why ESPN doesn’t just decide to sell access to Watch ESPN independently like HBO Go is planning to do at this point. Why are they still letting cable companies like DISH drink their milkshake? Seems to me ESPN could charge $20 /mo. on their own and make more money.

  22. If they force people to watch commercials, their product is inferior to piracy. They need to offer an equivalent or superior product to convert pirates to paying customers. That’s why Hulu was never truly successful.

  23. John, yeah WatchESPN straight from ESPN has occured to me to. I assume they’ll try to keep providers like DISH happy as the bulk of their money comes via those relationships in regards to a massive and critical mass of subscribers. And probably why that stand alone HBO GO service won’t exactly be stand alone and will require it be bundled to broadband in some way.

    Rodalpho, how do we define success for Hulu? Wonder what their subscriber count and margins look like. Also thought they’d be poised to offer live equivalents. But again where’s the motivation from the content owners and the licensing on all of this is so twisted during this period of evolution.

  24. Hulu offers current TV shows. It should be a real alternative to cable, but it’s only found niche success with cable cutters due to restrictions from content creators and their insane decision to show commercials on their paid service.

  25. Their motivation should be the same as Apple’s– do whatever it takes, whatEVER it takes, to convert pirates to paying customers. You don’t hear about anyone pirating music these days, do you? Everybody I know buys music on iTunes or pays for iTunes Match or Spotify. They’re great services at reasonable prices.

  26. I’ve updated the post with a new headline and an addendum up top after a few calls with the respective players. DISH has licensed “Sling” and “Sling TV” from Echostar and the Slingbox 500 that became the Sling TV is once again the Slingbox 500. And the related sling.com URL has obviously changed hands as well. Chaos theory for the win!

  27. It’s a bit late for the post, but here goes: It is no wonder that Ergan (still one of the most interesting entrepreneurs/charman’s today) is the fist out with an OTT MVPD product. Of course, he has been working on it longer than anyone else. Ergans’ remarks on successive Quarterly Conference Calls over the last several years make it clear he heard the death knell for traditional MVPD long before his peers. Comments like, “My kids tell me I’m in the wrong business,” and that his kids would “never” pay for a cable or sat TV service. “They [Ergan’s kids] get everything they watch over the internet!” Later Conference calls regarding his efforts to launch an OTT would be things like, “a new course for the company,” and “there are young people who have never paid for TV [referring to the TV and movie content on YouTube] and are never going to pay for [Dish] service nor any other [traditional] pay TV service,” Ergan not only sees the SlingTV as vital for his company’s survival, but he is also, cleverly, covering his bet on the craps table (he is a former professional poker player) by placing a bet with the house, a strategy to minimize losses, “we are better prepared for the future than any other [MVPD] company,” referring to the penultimate moment of SlingTV’s existnace. So, Dish is the ONLY MVPD player to be have a business on BOTH sides of the street: traditional Pay-TV and discounted on-line OTT TV. This is where the self-described “barefoot boy from Tennessee” still manages to outsmart his much larger competition, and still very much in the game. Of course, Ergan’s other plan to move his company(ies) into the wireless communications business among the Verizons and Sprints has had less success, but just as vital for the future of his companies.

    Well, with all the talk about Apple TV, et al. it was the guy who everyone said would be out of business within two months from the launch of Dish Network pay TV, yet he was the ONLY one to have not bailed out of fear that DirecTV had too much of a lead for a 2nd sat company to succeed. Even Rupert Murdoch abandoned Ergan, and Charlie was all alone in the DBS business with only DirecTV looming so large over Dish.

    I don’t think I would ever want to work for Ergan, but we consumers should give him a thanks for bringing SlingTV as an option for consumers and most likely to light a fire under Apple and Amazon and whoever else has been barely moving to make THEIR OTT product reality. We welcome the competition in then new OTT reality. Of course, for now, this SlingTV is NOT designed as a replacement to traditional MVPD, but an OPTION for the young ones, like Ergan’s own kids, who have no intention if EVER subscribing to cable or sat, but find SlingTV just right for them, and yes, ESPN is the killer channel on this service most have been clamoring for.

  28. Dave, the problem is that even though Dish and Sling are separate companies, Charlie Ergan is chairman of BOTH, and while he lets his CEO’s, especially Joe Clayton to MOSTLY run things, Egan still trumps on issues such as re-transmission agreements and how what the synergies are to be for Dish and Echostar, and Ergan, in many cases, still operates as if an entrepreneur with a much smaller company that either Dish or Echostar are today. After all, we must remember that Ergan is also one of the FOUNDERS, and they ALWAYS run companies with far more urgency that legacy ones.

    So, his companies are willing to make quick changes or abandon ideas early that seemed good, but are turning costly, etc. Ergan just won’t sit on his corporate laurels and expect the world to be the same in the next 5 or 10 years, unlike his payTV peers who seem to barely understand this whole OTT thing and seem even MORE wedded to their TV business than ever. So, quite frankly, a FOUNDER and Chairman tends to make things far more chaotic at the companies and blur those lines between the two companies and will continue to do so as long as Charlie Ergan remains as chairman of both companies. The day he leaves those companies is the day the corporate culture at both companies will significantly change.

  29. I think they (Charlie Ergan, et al.) are trying to raise the SlingTV brand profile. I really don’t think that the Slingboxes are going anywhere. It is COFUSING, this last minute name change, but I do think it is for the better and will raise awareness of the Sling brand and its products, which can really use some promotion. I sure do see how now the Sling “brand” occupies both Dish and Echostar universes. Further confusion can be expected with Dish’s own products, such as the Hopper that incorporate “Sling” in their names. “Hey, isn’t that the new on-line TV service?” “No, it just means we can Sling the content–but yeah it is a kind of “Sling” like we have at SlingTV that we get on-line and . . . it is confusing.” I love Slingboxes and I do hope the new name for the OTT service helps raise awareness of how great the Slingboxes are.

  30. The poor transition continues… on the day Sling TV launches, the Slingbox help forums remain on the sling.com URL: https://community.sling.com

    Oh yeah, looking at About on Mac and PC Sling TV players cites Echostar. Whereas this is supposedly a DISH-produced product.

  31. The shell game continues… Sling Media, an Echostar entity, filed a trademark this month for “Sling TV.” But, if you recall, Sling TV is a DISH subsidiary.

    https://twitter.com/davezatz/status/566021817312509952

  32. All those brands and companies sound like Hungarian to me.

    But I know you have ancestral relatives in that neck of the woods, and with all the “Sling TV” excitement/confusion, this must be like the twelve days of christmas…

  33. Hmmm… Charlie Ergen is Keyser Söze?

  34. The circle is now complete…? Ergen CEO and President of DISH once again:
    http://dish.client.shareholder.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=897547

  35. Interesting… A law firm based in the midwest reached out today with questions about “Sling TV” licensing. I can think of a few possibilities as to why, but none of it would be my business really plus I’m obviously not a legal professional in this arena – wouldn’t want to publicly speculate. I reiterated that, after posting, Sling Media and their reps got on the phone with me to indicate “Sling TV” was moving from Echostar to DISH. I also conveyed that I am not a “Sling TV” streaming service customer and therefore am not privvy to any end-user license agreement.

  36. “Interesting… A law firm based in the midwest reached out today with questions about “Sling TV” licensing. I can think of a few possibilities as to why, but none of it would be my business really”

    Not your business? I always thought “Charlie Ergen” was a pseudonym for Dave Zatz.

    “I also conveyed that I am not a “Sling TV” streaming service customer and therefore am not privvy to any end-user license agreement.”

    Wouldn’t have mattered. One of the EULA clauses is an NDA on the EULA itself. So you still wouldn’t have been able to talk to them about it. Quite unusual, but since it can’t be reported upon, it’s gotten zero notice.

  37. Dammit. I just violated that EULA clause. Please don’t sue me, Charlie/Dave…

  38. The first rule of EULA NDA Club…