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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.