Technology: Sling TV Bringing More Sports Without Cable, Satellite

Courtesy: A screenshot of the Sling TV service as it will look on your TV or internet-capable device.

A screenshot of the Sling TV service as it will look on your TV or internet-capable device.

Things are changing rapidly in the realm of television service and no better sign of that belief has materialized than the development of Sling TV.

Sling TV was announced Monday by its developer, Dish Network, who once upon a time pioneered satellite subscription service. This time around, they’re offering the first television service provided strictly online — no cables, no dishes — at a pay as you go rate, which provides upper-tier cable channels.

A small list of channels, around a dozen, will be made available upon the service’s launch within the next few months, but the price-point is a very pleasing $20 per month and the available selection touches on a great deal of what people truly come to cable for — kids (and stoners) get the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Adult Swim, Home and Garden, DIY network and Food Network will placate the domestically inclined and for the first time ever sports fans will be able to watch ESPN and ESPN2 without a major pay-tv provider.

That last fact is very much a game-changer. Dish knew that this risky new service, which as is still may have its detractors, needed a universal draw to make it truly tempting to cord-cutters, whose options to avoid costly subscription services and bloated bundles are better than ever. ESPN’s carriage fees — the cost providers like Dish Network pay the 4-letter to carry it, broken down by each subscriber overall — make it the most in-demand content producer in the pay-tv universe, it provides the most widely watched cable broadcasts by a wide margin.

ESPN having more and more large, season-ending events like the College Football Playoff makes it as essential as ever to the every-day sports fan and while many of us can fork down whatever they’d like for cable service, many more are relegated to the “off-shore” areas of the internet to find free streams in order to see the games they most want to see. That shouldn’t be the case for us and ESPN certainly doesn’t want to see it that way either, not when there’s more money to make.

Money will be made and more eyes will be legally put on to future College Playoffs, NFL broadcasts, NBA playoffs and more that ESPN provides. And speaking of NBA, and NCAA basketball…the Sling service also will have TBS and TNT in its roll out, meaning there will be less need to see Thursdays on TNT — complete with “Inside the NBA,” — on any of the web sites that shall not be named.

The NCAA Tournament’s increasing cable presence has continued with the Final Four (and soon the title game itself) being broadcast on TBS. Ted Turner’s original network also remains one of the main broadcasters of the MLB postseason.

With all that said, there are some aspects (or non-aspects) of the service where criticism is appropriate, but Dish seems to realize the limitations of the service and are trying to ensure that people see Sling as a companion provider, not a one-stop-shop. For instance, Sling provides only the channels it lists (though sports and kid-specific upgrades with added channels are expected to be available for an added $5 per month), you have to provide your own internet service to use it on and you can’t stream over the air channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) through Sling, so keep your digital antenna and converter box (though, hopefully you only have one of those in case your grandparents break theirs).

Also, there’s no DVR service available and you can only watch Sling on one TV/internet device at a time under one account. Still, the flexibility and affordability sounds awesome, especially for sports fans who are mostly going to watch live events and can schedule out when they’ll need the service by what’s in season.

For example: if the service goes live in time for this year’s March Madness, one could try it out for that month, let it go for April, put it back on for the NBA conference Finals on ESPN and TNT in May and then use the $20 for something else during each summer month, while awaiting the return of college football Saturdays and Monday Night Football in September.

That type of autonomy in budgeting and commitment has not been something cable has ever offered and for the most part it still doesn’t look like the Comcasts and Time Warner Cables of the world will do so. Who knows how long Sling TV will be around, but in the meantime expect it to get tried out quite a bit.

Dish’s new Sling TV service liberates ESPN from the cable bundle (GigaOM)

Dish Introduces Sling TV, Its Over-The-Top Alternative To The Cable Bundle (TechCrunch)

Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Follow Kyle Means on Twitter @Wrk_Wrt

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