Traditional pay television has a problem. DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) has started to close the gap between the services offered by Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), Cablevision (UNKNOWN:CVC.DL), and the rest of the big boys. Starting at $20 a month, the Sling service offers a decent selection of top-tier cable channels streamed digitally without a cable subscription.
Sling doesn't offer the hundreds of channels the traditional providers do, but the DISH offering has expanded its base offering, and greatly enhanced its five $5-a-month add-on packages. The first-of-its-kind live-streaming service does not have everything, but it has an awful lot for dramatically less money than the $123 per month that the average American pays, according to NPD.
DISH's offering is not perfect or complete, but it's good enough and getting better; even customers paying the $20 base price along with $5 each for the five add-on packages could add Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Hulu Plus, and Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime Instant Video, and still be well below $123 a month.
What Sling offers
When Sling launched in February, it had a pretty impressive package of channels including AMC, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Disney Channel, CNN, and Galavision. The service also offers ESPN and ESPN2, which filled a live sports hole that eliminated a reason many people cite as a reason to not cut the cord with cable.
Now, Sling has announced that A&E, HISTORY, H2, and Lifetime are joining the core $20 service. In addition, the company said that a number of additions were coming to its $5 add-on packages.
- "Lifestyle Extra" will offer truTV, Cooking Channel, DIY, and WE tv, with FYI and LMN
- "World News Extra" includes Bloomberg TV, HLN, Euro News, France 24, and more
"After only six weeks in market, we're working toward nearly doubling the size of our 'Best of Live TV' core package while preserving our attractive $20 price point," said Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV. "With the upcoming arrival of A+E Networks' highly rated content, Sling TV will soon include 20 networks for just $20 per month."
Sling also offers a $5 sports package with ESPNU, The SEC Network, ESPN News, NBC Sports Network, and a number of other channels. A kids-and-family package can be purchased, as well, with Disney Jr., Disney XD, Boomerang, and more. The Hollywood Extra $5 package brings access to movies through the EPIX networks, as well as Sundance TV.
How does this compare?
Sling's offerings give it a decent selection of the top-rated cable channels. There are some holes -- USA, Bravo, and Food Network are missing -- but at $20 for the base package, plus $25 for all the add-ons, the number of channels available to Sling users is fairly stunning.
What the service does not have is network TV, which leaves some major holes in its sports offering. Most of the primetime shows on the networks eventually make their way to Netflix or Hulu Plus, but programs like Sunday Night Football, and the NBA, Major League Baseball, and part of the Stanley Cup Finals are network only.
There's no digital-only option for getting the networks, but a simple HDTV antenna, which can be purchased for less than $30, solves that problem -- at least for people who live in major metropolitan areas.
It's almost a la carte
Sling does not truly offer a la carte pricing; but it's a much closer approximation than what cable has. The digital-only service does not approach the depth of cable's offering, but it has an awful lot of channels with the ability to pick the add-on packages that make sense for you.
The full Sling offering, plus a premium service like Netflix, costs less than $55. That's a huge savings compared to the average cable bill. This could cause consumers, over time, to reconsider their pay television packages. That may mean cutting the cord, or thinking more carefully about exactly what they are paying for.
Sling may not unseat cable just yet, but it's clearly on the cutting edge of a new group of services that threaten to do so. It's hard to ignore the mix of savings and value the service offers; whether Sling becomes a hit or not, its arrival likely hastens a change to the traditional cable model.