When DISH Network's (NASDAQ:DISH) Sling service was introduced at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, the purely digital pay television service looked like it would serve as a complement to Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Instant Video.
Sling, as it currently exists, offers live streaming of popular cable channels including ESPN, Food Network, and CNN for $20 a month without a wired cable subscription. This makes DISH the first company that delivers some of cable's most-watched programming without a traditional hookup. Sling also offers $5 add-on packages featuring more channels in the sports, kids, and news categories.
Though Sling does offer movie rentals, the service has largely been about offering live programming to cord cutters. That's very different from Netflix and Prime Instant Video, which have great archives of television shows and movies, but no live programming. Now, however, Sling has taken on a new partner which will give it a large selection of movies that will live stream and be available on demand.
Sling's new partner is ...
The fledgling service has made a deal with EPIX to bring the company's subscription-based movie channels to Sling. EPIX, a partnership between Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM, offers over 2,000 films, including recent releases from the partner studios.
"Our customers crave the newest movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Transformers: Age of Extinction, but they also have a growing appetite for the classics and EPIX delivers both," said Sling CEO Roger Lynch in a press release. "Sling TV will feature EPIX's linear channels and movies on-demand in an add-on package that is accessible and affordable."
Sling has not announced a price for its EPIX package, which will include four live streaming channels, as well as movies on demand. The current sports, kids, and news add-on packages each cost $5.
Maybe it's good enough
The Sling package, which I have been testing for a few weeks with access provided by the company, is an attractive option for people looking to cut the cord. It has a nice selection of channels and the presence of ESPN means that you will get some live sports and at least highlights for games you don't have access to. It's by no means a one-for-one replacement for cable, but in many ways it's good enough.
The EPIX deal can be looked at in the same way -- especially if the company prices it at $5, which is is less than the $8.99 new subscribers pay Netflix. A comparison to Amazon is a little harder because the $99 per year cost of Prime ($8.25 a month, though you have to pay annually) comes as part of a package with free two-day shipping, a music service, and other goodies.
But if you compare Netflix and Amazon's video offerings to Sling, adding EPIX may make DISH's service a good enough alternative. Yes, Netflix has great originals and Amazon has some good ones. Netflix also has close to 10,000 movies and television shows in its archive, but at some point the difference between 2,000 movies and 5,000 is irrelevant.
Nobody will argue that Netflix is a better service than EPIX, and you can't argue the overall value of Prime, but for cord cutters Sling may have enough for cost-conscious consumers to consider having it and only it.
DISH is on to something here
One of the most annoying parts of cord cutting appears to be that content comes from so many places. Set-top boxes like Amazon's Fire TV or Apple TV make navigating between various services easier, but it's still tedious.
By adding movies to its live TV offering, Sling has created a decent one-stop shop. The Sling interface is easy to use and creates an experience that's somewhat similar to flipping channels on a TV wired to traditional cable. Adding movies to the mix makes it easy for consumers to simply stay on one product and bounce between live TV and films.
Perhaps only the biggest penny pinchers will opt for Sling with EPIX over using the DISH service and Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video. But in the long-run, it's possible customers will use Sling for live TV and find that they use Amazon or Prime Instant video less and less. At some point, it won't make sense to pay for services that are rarely used, which could lead to people dropping Netflix and Prime.
Sling is essentially building an a la carte pricing model where customers can pay for only what they want. It's not as good as having 100 or more cable channels, and it doesn't offer the depth of on-demand programming Netflix does, but Sling has a decent amount of each and for many that may be enough.