People who grew up with the Internet do not like paying for cable TV. It’s expensive, and it’s full of terrible channels no one cares to watch. We’re already paying stiff monthly bills for broadband Internet and mobile phone service. We have a hard time justifying spending hundreds more per year for TV—especially when we can already watch most of our favorite shows on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, et al. That’s why I, and many of my friends, have never signed up for cable.
But there has always been one big drawback to this à la carte approach to Internet-based TV: It doesn’t include live news and sports.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, Dish Network announced what is probably the first credible attempt to solve that problem. Its new, Web-based Sling TV service will offer live, streaming cable TV for $20 a month—significantly less than a standard cable subscription.
To start with, Sling TV will come with 12 major channels, including, crucially, ESPN. Here’s the full list:
That’s a much skimpier lineup than you’d get with even basic cable. But, for a lot of cord-cutters and “cord-nevers” desperate for live news and sports, it may be enough to justify the cost. Additional channel packages, like “Kids Extra” and “Sports Extra,” available for $5 apiece, are in the works. And the channel lineup will expand with time, promised Dish Network’s CEO, Joseph Clayton.
To sign up, Clayton said, you don’t need any special equipment: “All you need is a credit card and a broadband connection.” In addition to being available on your computer via the Web, the service will work with an impressive array of devices, including iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Google Nexus Player, Roku players, and Xbox One, with more supposedly on the way.
Another advantage: Since Sling TV requires no contract, you won’t be subjected to a Kafka-esque 18-minute conversation with a beleaguered customer-service rep when you try to cancel.
Dish is explicitly targeting millennials with the offering. “For this generation, pay TV is no longer a utility like gas, electric, or a landline phone,” said Roger Lynch, Dish’s top Sling TV executive. “The mobile phone and broadband Internet are the must-haves,” while video content is pieced together through a mix of services like “YouTube, Hulu, even BitTorrent.”
His name-check of BitTorrent turned some heads at the company’s press conference Monday. Cable types usually prefer to use the word “piracy” when forced to acknowledge the popularity of peer-to-peer file-sharing. Lynch also raised a couple of other specters that have been haunting cable companies, including people “borrowing their parents’ HBO Go password.”
Sling TV will not, by itself, kill off cable, any more than Aereo did (before the Supreme Court ruled it illegal). It’s an early and pretty rudimentary offering.
Even so, it will come as a damaging broadside to a pay-TV industry that has largely managed to keep live sports off the Web as a stick with which to keep would-be cord-cutters on board. The participation of ESPN represents an acknowledgment that this strategy isn’t working very well. And if other major networks follow its lead, millennials might not be the only ones jumping ship.
Previously in Slate: