In the short time since Sling TV graduated from beta and launched nationwide back in early February 2015, the Dish Network-backed streaming service has created a huge buzz almost solely on word of mouth. The service shows high potential for disrupting the cable TV industry by giving subscribers access to live cable channels, like ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, HGTV, History Channel, and many more starting as low as $20 per month with genre add-on packs, like Sports Extra, Kids Extra, and HBO that can be tacked on for as little as $5 more per month…all of this without a contract, allowing subscribers to pay month-to-month and cancel any time.
I’ve made no secret of my love for Sling TV. I’ve called it “the ultimate cable TV alternative” and talked about how it’s my favorite streaming service for watching sports online.
So why do I believe that Sling is the future of television? Check out my top 8 things that make it the true cable killer.
#1 It’s the first way to legally stream live cable channels.
Up until Sling TV came around, most legal online programming comprised on-demand content. There was no good replacement for turning on the TV just to have something in the background. Instead, you had to pick through Netflix or a similar service to find something to use as background noise. Watching TV as a cord cutter required thought and intention.
But with Sling TV, you can just turn it on, pick your station, and let it go. I find HGTV especially good for this, as it’s calm, easy to pickup mid-program, and I don’t have to worry about what’s on when the kids come in the room.
#2 No more contracts or expiring promotions.
One way the cable companies get you is by giving you an offer you can’t refuse, so to speak. The problem is when you sign up to get that 6 months cheap, you’re locking yourself in for much longer. And after that promotion runs out, your bill skyrockets.
Think you can get out of paying that higher rate? Good luck. I suppose you could try and cancel, but then you’re going to get hit with all those cancellation fees. It’s a dirty trick they use to keep you stuck.
However, Sling TV is all about customer choice. You can pick up the service during football season and cancel it when it’s done. Add HBO when Game of Thrones is on, get rid of that extra channel when the season is over. No contracts, no cancellation fees. And best of all, you always know what your bill will look like. There are no unpleasant surprises.
#3 One word…sports.
One of the biggest reasons people don’t cut the cord is their love for live sports. The average person doesn’t want to watch a game on demand–they want to see it when everyone else does. No spoilers. Well, historically that’s been difficult, especially since ESPN dominates so much of the live sports coverage.
But guess what? Sling TV has ESPN. And not just ESPN…ESPN2 and ESPN3 via the WatchESPN app. And if you add their Sports Extra package, you can get the SEC Network, ESPNU, ESPNNews, and more. That’s a whole lot of sports coverage that you don’t have to miss out on once you cut the cord.
#4 For the first time, cord cutters can keep up with water cooler talk.
Shows like Mad Men, Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and Game of Thrones are cultural phenomenons. And not long ago, the only ways to watch them without cable were to find illegal streams or borrow friends’ cable logins to log onto network apps and websites. Thankfully, those days are over.
Since Sling TV allows you to live stream popular cable TV channels, you don’t have to wait to see the action. You can watch along with the rest of the world and not have to dodge spoilers for months while you wait for it to come out on DVD.
#5 It’s inexpensive.
With the average cable bill hovering at around $100 per month, it’s no wonder that more and more people are looking for ways to cut the cord. That’s where Sling TV comes in as the most viable cable TV alternative. For just $20 per month, you basically get a small cable package to stream. Channels in the basic package include ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, CNN, HGTV, Disney, and more.
Want more channels? Sling TV offers a variety of add-on packages, such as Sports Extra, for an additional $5 per month. You can even add on HBO for $15 per month. Remember, there’s no contract, so you can add and remove packages without penalty whenever you want.
#6 Channels keep getting added.
Speaking of channels, Sling TV is working hard to make more and more available. For example, not that long ago, they added Polaris+ and TMC. They’re increasing their Spanish options too, with add-on packages like Deportes Extra. It’s an ever-evolving service that’s still very young, so look for more channels to be added as new deals are made.
#7 You can customize with additional (cheap) packages.
As I noted above, it’s easy to customize your Sling TV packages to suit your viewing needs. For just $5 extra per month, you can add any of the following packages:
- Sports Extra–Additional sports channels like ESPNU, SEC Network, Universal Sports, and more.
- Kids Extra–Keep the kids happy with Disney Jr., Disney XD, Boomerang, and other popular kids’ networks.
- Hollywood Extra–EPIX channels, SundanceTV, and TMC for the movie buffs.
- Deportes Extra–Univision, ESPN Deportes, and more for Spanish-speakers.
- World News Extra–Keep on top of current events around the world with HLN, Euro News, and more.
- Lifestyle Extra–Cooking Channel, DIY Network, truTV and more for those looking to live better.
There are also additional Spanish add-ons, as well as HBO. Add them, take them away, keep them forever–whatever you want. You’re in control of your viewing experience!
#8 They offer great incentives.
Sling offers a few great incentives for signing up:
- Free 7-day trial–This deal is great because you can take the service for a test drive without putting any money up. If you like it, continue. If not, lose it. And best of all, you can try any of the add-on packages during your trial.
- Get a Roku 3 half-off–If you prepay 3 months of service, you can get the top-rated Roku 3 for 50% off. This is my favorite device for streaming to your television.
- Free Roku Streaming Stick–Need a streaming device that’s easy to conceal? Sign up for 3 months and get a Roku Streaming Stick absolutely free.
- 30% discount on the Best of Live TV package for T-Mobile customers — As a T-Mobile customer, you can spend just $14/month to watch all of your favorite television shows. This offer is available for up to 12 months, and you can stream Sling TV anytime, anywhere without worrying about data overage charges (thanks to T-Mobile’s Binge On feature!).
7 Features I’d Like to See As Sling TV Continues to Improve
As much as I praise Sling TV, I know it’s not perfect. After all, the service is still young. In fact, they’re operating in largely uncharted territory. They’re really the first to offer a service of this kind.
Now, this is not me being an overly demanding customer. Dish’s own co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Charlie Ergen admitted on Monday’s first-quarter earnings call that Sling has room for improvement when he stated, “We’re not a good as we need to be.”
So, what does Sling TV need to do if it wants to take its streaming service to a truly elite level, making it a real cable killer? Here are some features and improvements I believe Sling TV could realistically add in the near future to make it an even more appealing cable TV alternative.
#1 Multiple streams simultaneously
Without a doubt, the most common issue people have with Sling TV is that you can only stream it to one device at a time. The only exceptions to this is are for subscribers with HBO or Sling International. You can stream HBO and Sling International content on up to 3 devices simultaneously. For Sling International, simultaneous streaming comes at an additional cost.
In other words, there’s basically no account sharing. Forget being able to watch ESPN online in the living room while your kids stream Disney in their bedroom. As David Mumpower, media analyst at BoxOfficeProphets.com points out, this is a big drawback for families especially. “For larger families, that’s a deal breaker,” he said. “They have to expand that ASAP to make Sling viable.”
I’m optimistic this is an issue Sling TV will resolve eventually. Remember, when Netflix first started its streaming service, it only allowed one stream at a time as a way to maintain the infrastructure with growing demand. Over time, Netflix eventually rolled out tiered pricing that now allows subscribers to pay a little more for multiple streams if that’s what they want.
While no one from Sling TV has ever said they would add the ability to stream simultaneously on multiple devices, you have to believe the company has heard the complaints and will eventually give subscribers what they want. In fact, in a Reddit AMA, Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch seemed to choose his words carefully when he said, “At launch (emphasis added), Sling TV will be a single-stream service.” I don’t think the words “at launch” were mentioned carelessly. I think everyone at Sling TV realizes the single-stream restriction is a serious shortcoming that needs to be resolved at some point in the near future.
2. DVR functionality
While one of the great appeals of Sling TV is its live streaming content, the truth is a lot of people don’t watch TV live anymore. Today’s television audience are evolving into on-demand and DVR viewers. While Sling TV does have some solid on-demand offerings (more on that later), it does not currently offer DVR functionality. So, if you want to catch a game live or watch your favorite show, you need to watch it live or hope it’s available later on demand. Again, for some, this is a deal breaker.
The frustrating thing for many is that Sling TV does offer the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward on some of its channels, functions associated with a DVR. Additionally, many channels have a “3 Day Replay” feature that lets you watch any show the station has aired within the last 3 days. However, while the basic framework seems to be in place, the service has yet to fully incorporate DVR functionality. So while you can sometimes rewind, pause, and fast forward content, you still can’t record it. Mumpower says, “[Sling TV] sorely needs DVR recording as well as the ability to pause live TV, which it may not get in the short term since cable companies would cause self-inflicted wounds by authorizing Dish to allow it.”
Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog also pines for true DVR functionality from Sling. As he wrote in his Sling TV review, the lack of a DVR means “no putting the basketball game on pause while you go to the bathroom or grab a cold one from the fridge. And definitely no giving yourself a time buffer so you can fast-forward through commercials.”
To be a true cable TV killer, Sling TV needs to eventually add DVR support or, at the very least, significantly expand its on-demand options and give subscribers the ability to set automatic reminders for shows they want to follow.
#3 100% unrestricted content
One of the issues Sling TV has run into with being the “first true provider of internet-delivered television” is there are some movies, shows, and sporting events that their channel providers don’t currently have the rights to stream online. So, for example, while you’ll get A&E with your basic Sling TV subscription, there are certain times where some of that channel’s programming shows as “Content Unavailable” because A&E doesn’t have the rights to stream it online.
This is an issue Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch recently addressed on the company’s blog. He wrote, “Being first is not without its challenges, and one of them is streaming rights. Though the vast majority of our partners’ content plays on Sling TV the same as it would anywhere else, you may have noticed that a few programs are blacked out. Rest assured, we are working with our programming partners to reduce the number of programs that aren’t available on Sling TV, and we expect this situation to improve in the coming months.”
For now, it seems blacked out content is a temporary growing pain for a new service that’s striving to change the pay TV model for the better. Expect Sling TV to work through this issue over time, and in the meantime, the company does a good job of notifying subscribers of any upcoming blackouts in advance by listing them in its weekly This Week on Sling TV feature.
#4 Improved on-demand experience
One of the things we learned from Monday’s quarterly earnings call was that while live TV is Sling’s main selling point, a majority of subscribers are actually watching video on demand (VOD), according to Lynch. However, it’s an area with plenty of room for improvement.
Currently, many of the Sling channels offer the ability to watch any episode from the past 3 days on demand. However, many subscribers believe this isn’t enough and would like to see a larger amount of content available on demand.
“Some shows had a single episode, and I don’t recall a single season of anything,” said Mumpower.
But making more content available on demand isn’t the only improvement Sling could make to this feature. Perhaps the biggest issue subscribers have with the VOD is finding it in the first place. Getting to the on-demand content can be tricky for some. As the company pointed out in its guide, you must highlight the channel you want to view, press the up arrow, and then you’ll need to scroll down to the content that’s “Available Now.” It’s not the most user-friendly on-demand interface, to be sure (more on that next), and the company knows it.
“The service already has quite a bit of VOD available today,” said Lynch. “We need to do a better job of making it accessible to customers.”
#5 More intuitive user interface
Sling TV’s user interface is certainly slick and clean on the surface, but some subscribers find it difficult to navigate. Instead of the traditional TV guide layout used in cable and satellite TV, Sling uses a horizontal ribbon of channels in a timeline-style programming guide. While this works well enough on touchscreen mobile devices, it’s not ideal for those using a computer, streaming box or stick, or Xbox One.
Aaron Hebert, a technology consultant in New Orleans, believes an adjustment to the Sling TV app’s layout is necessary to make it more user friendly, suggesting an alternative. “The browsing structure is a bit confusing. Sling could use some tweaking in the design and layout making it more intuitive and easy to use,” he said. “Instead of a ribbon browsing format and automatically playing the last channel played, a tiled or rowed ribbon format with each channel on a row, would make for quicker access to get to desired content.”
Personally, while I became accustomed to Sling’s interface fairly quickly, I believe a more traditional guide layout would be a more user friendly solution for the average subscriber.
#6 Ability to consistently withstand high-demand events
March Madness proved to be Sling TV’s first major test. One of the year’s biggest sporting events brought a surge of new subscribers to the streaming service. Unfortunately, this influx of new users tuning in to watch college hoops led to choppy, delayed, and even nonexistent streams for many angry Sling users.
Lynch conceded that Sling was overwhelmed, and the company released a statement through its Twitter support account saying, “We’re sorry some basketball fans saw errors tonight due to extreme sign-ups and streaming. Engineers rebalanced load across network partners.”
Not long after this failure, Sling TV faced its next big test — the launch of its new HBO stream and the season premiere of Game of Thrones. Fortunately, the company learned quickly from its mistakes and was able to weather the immense demand for the Game of Thrones premiere. Currently, Sling TV has performed beautifully throughout the NBA Playoffs, which are certainly attracting new subscribers.
Going forward, Sling TV will need to be able to manage high-demand, must-see events consistently with no complications.
#7 Regional sports networks
Perhaps no audience loves Sling TV more than sports fans. The company made history by making ESPN available without a cable subscription for the first time ever. Through various packages, subscribers can access all types channels that carry sports programming, including ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, SEC Network, Universal Sports, beIN Sports, and Univision Deportes. Additionally, there is the Deportes Extra add-on pack for soccer and other Spanish-language sports programming.
Sling’s current sports programming is excellent for keeping up with major national and international sporting events, like March Madness, Monday Night Football, the NFL Draft, NBA, major soccer matches, and more. But for fans who want to keep up with their favorite local teams all season long, Sling TV’s lack of regional sports networks is a bit of a drawback.
On Monday’s conference call, Ergen acknowledged the issue, but said there are no plans to include regional sports networks in their service. He pointed to the limited national appeal of regional sports networks.
“It would be difficult to do any kind of bundle without ESPN,” Ergen said. “That’s not the case with the regional sports [networks].”
While there would be a number of challenges with negotiating streaming rights with all of the nation’s major regional sports networks, it’s still an area Sling TV eventually needs to iron out if it wants to attract more sports fans to its service.
The future is very bright for Sling TV. The streaming service is already propelling the industry forward, and as the company continues to refine its offering, Sling could one day help kill cable TV.
Have you tried Sling TV? You can get a 7 day free trial now to test out the exciting new streaming service.
Mr. Cable Cutter
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