DISH Networks outlined the framework, minus critical detail for sports fans, for its long-awaited OTT service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with a promise to address perhaps the biggest issue at an undisclosed future date.
When the company discussed channels for sports fans after its resolved dispute with ABC, it mentioned almost enough to get sports fans salivating, mentioning regional sports networks such as the SEC (News - Alert) Network and The Longhorn Network (University of Texas sports) as well as the full set of ESPN channels, with the possibility of more.
Now, many months later, the best sports fans can do, instead of cutting the cable cord, is wait some more, and hope the initially $20, 12-channel Sling TV, delivers those and more.
Wait for it…
Why? Because DISH teased an upcoming “Sports Extra” option that, at this point, could make or break the promising service in the eyes of sports fans (especially fans of pro sports such as the NFL).
Conspicuously absent from the “announcement” is any mention of the Regional Sports Networks, ESPN3, and most any of the networks that carry live NFL games. ESPN (News - Alert) is all but a sports news show, though it grabbed a NFL Playoff game this year and is hoops heavy for basketball fans.
Sling does include TBS and TNT, which means live game casts of certain sports such as MLB (News - Alert) and the NBA. But there is no mention of NBC, CBS or Fox which reportedly won’t be part of Sling, which will have more channels added going forward according to DISH.
So it’s tough to call this otherwise appealing Sling service “sports heavy,” at least until the contents of the Sports Extra option are finally made public. DISH declined to identify the contents of Sports Extra, or the price, saying only that it’s coming soon.
More Sports is Better
I’m hoping it includes more than the channels initially named. With Sling at a low $20 for 12 channels, sports fans, who continue to pay extra for the leagues and live games they love, will pay more for the added option if it packs punch.
These fans, and subscribers who don’t follow sports, have been continually hit with fees from pay-TV service providers designed to cover the cost of ever-rising sports content prices. Many have instituted monthly RSN fees, and/or broadcast TV fees and or sports programming fees. Most charge a premium for specific sports channel packages.
When asked if the OTT service would come with similar sports related carriage fees, a Sling spokesperson said only that no pricing beyond the $20 and $5 options detailed this week has been released.
Now, and Later.
As a sports-first fan, Sling seems appealing at its price point and with the channels it carries. Premium “movie channels” turned original series providers absent from the lineup isn’t a deal breaker, though Comedy Central certainly is. But then I’m not a millennial. And who needs a heavy serving of news channels, all covering the same stories?
Some of the premium movie channels turned original series providers are talking tough about going direct to consumers. HBO has already committed to do so this year. Paying for one could be enough for those far more interested in original programming than any type of sport. If that’s the case, add it to the shopping carriage once pricing has been reviewed.
DISH doesn’t need to be reminded that the top two most-watched TV “shows” in 2013 were Sunday Night Football (NBC) and Big Bang (News - Alert) Theory (CBS). Neither appears to be in the Sling lineup. But since they are over-the-air broadcasters, the HD antenna option is viable.
And then there are niche channels, which have quickly built a large following whether it’s the History Channel, Spike (popular with males young and older) and even A&E.
DISH also beat the loud doomsayers who claimed the company could not bring its Sling service in at the $30-$40 per month range with or without the pricey ESPN. The service offers tiers with many additional channels that provide a wider variety of programming for those who want it.
Just like the channel lineup, Sling’s DVR capability, which is cloud-based, is a work-in-progress initially with the ability to record all channels and in some case, only a three-day recording retention limit.
The list of connected devices that can access Sling can use some expansion. According to the company: “supported Internet-connected devices for Sling TV are expected to include Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google’s (News - Alert) Nexus Player, select LG Smart TVs, Roku players, Roku TV models, select Samsung Smart TVs, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Mac and PC. Sling TV expects to announce its availability on additional streaming devices and smart TVs in the coming months.
I’m not sure what “expected” means at the beginning of the list and don’t see Google’s Chromecast in the mix. And mentions of “select” models of LG and Samsung smart TVs seems limiting.
But then again, one of the most interesting aspects of this service is that it’s clearly a work-in-progress without a fixed set of channels and capabilities. The inverse of that is that the waiting can be the hardest part.
While most all of the positioning for Sling focused on targeting millennials predisposed to cutting the cable cord, this service could prove alluring for younger TV viewers, many of whom are not currently paying for TV (parents) and those “cord-nevers” desperately seeking an affordable OTT service alternative to what their parents pay per month for traditional pay TV.
Further, the population of pay TV subscribers who aren’t sports fans at all is quite large. Tagging these customers with any sports fee(s) is akin to adding insult to injury. And the fees in several cases continue to rise. Many of this multi-demographic have fled to Netflix, which is bereft of live sports. Many could also flee to Sling OTT.
The Bottom Line
Though DISH filled in plenty of blanks this week with regard to its anticipated OTT service, namely price and the contents of its basic package and non-sports options, it has many more to reveal with regard to sports content before any sports fan, pro or college, will feels drawn to the offering.
Until then, all we live sports fans can do is wait…and hope.
As always, stay tuned! Is there really anything else we can do?