Cutting the cord: Dish's Sling TV could win older fans

Cutting the cord: Dish's Sling TV could win older fans

By Mike Snider, USA TODAY 8:01 a.m. EST January 25, 2015

Now that we know what's on Sling TV, it's time to figure out who will pay for it. The answer may be a surprise — even to its creators.

Sling TV is Dish Network's new subscription Net video service. It's likely to become available by the end of the month and will cost $20 monthly for about a dozen live TV channels, including ABC Family, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN and ESPN 2, the Food Network, HGTV, TBS, TNT, The Travel Channel and Adult Swim.

As the cable cord-cutting movement has advanced, many have held back because pay-TV alternatives such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video don't have live sports. Having ESPN and ESPN 2 available on Sling TV may lure some to join the cord-cutting conga line.

Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch says the new offering targets Millennials who are less likely to subscribe to pay TV.

Not so fast, says David Lieberman, executive editor at In a Jan. 19 column, Lieberman says he suspects Sling TV "may appeal more to cash-strapped cable and satellite subscribers than it will to young adults."

That's because the Sling TV programming channels skew more toward older viewers than Millennials, Lieberman says.

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen may be soft-selling Sling TV so as not to upset the "Golden Goose" that is the pay TV industry — which has 100 million or so homes paying on average $70 a month, and many $100 or more.

At The Diffusion Group, a tech consulting firm that has provided plenty of fodder for this column, Alan Wolk says Sling TV may attract some cord-cutters, but "it is Millennial cord-nevers who will be the ones ponying up $20 a month for the app."

The main factor, he says, is the importance of live news (CNN) and sports (ESPN) to Millennials. "Cord-never Millennials will quickly figure out that most of the other programming on Sling TV is also available on Netflix or Hulu Plus — and without eight minutes of commercials," Wolk reasons.

I'm interested in how important the lack of a two-year contract is to consumers. As opposed to traditional pay TV service, Sling TV is like Spotify, Lynch says. "I put in my credit card and can cancel whenever I want, and I can take it wherever I go."

Combine Sling TV with HBO's as-yet-undefined standalone Net service — and your choice of Amazon, Hulu or Netflix — and cord-cutting probably becomes even more attractive.

Nearly one in five broadband homes (17%) are likely to subscribe to HBO's service, which is due to begin operation this year, according to research firm Parks Associates. Many (91%) of those broadband homes are also pay-TV customers, and half would cancel pay TV once they get the new HBO service, the firm found.

"The percentage of subscribers interested in (Net-delivered, over-the-top) video services is trending upward, and more industry players are planning to launch their own OTT services," says Parks' research analyst Glenn Hower.

Although Net TV can be watched on computers, tablets and smartphones, viewing on TV remains important. But, Hower said, "the age of appointment television is coming to a close, and programming will need to adapt to an on-demand environment."

Sling TV represents an important step in that evolution.

"Cutting the Cord" is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider via e-mail. Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.


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