Traditional cable companies’ strangleholds over digital entertainment just got a little looser with the public launch of SlingTV, an online streaming service offered by Dish Network. SlingTV offers subscribers live access to a variety of TV and movie channels for $20 a month.
Following a brief debut at CES 2015 in January, SlingTV was available on an invite-only basis, but VentureBeat reports that things apparently went so well that executives decided to lift the invite period earlier than expected. An official announcement went up earlier today.
Launched last year, Sling spent most of 2014 negotiating licensing contracts with major broadcast and TV cable networks. So far, about 15 networks have signed on, including ESPN, ESPN2, Food Network, Travel Channel, CNN, Cartoon Network, HGTV, ABC Family, TBS, AMC and TNT. The company told VentureBeat that plans to offer additional networks are underway; in the meantime, subscribers can purchase additional channel packages for additional monthly fee of $5 each.
According to Bloomberg, Dish is hoping to target millennials who are fed up with the high costs of traditional cable:
Dish, the third-largest pay-TV provider, with 14 million subscribers, is betting that the low-priced online service will lure younger customers. Dish is the first of several pay-TV providers that is aiming smaller programming bundles at customers who may be unwilling to pay for full-priced traditional TV packages.
As is the case with most Millennial-targeted services, viewers can watch Sling from their mobile devices and tablets. An even more appealing aspect to Sling is that they can opt out of the service at any time, unlike most traditional cable companies that often require an annual contract. The service also represents a welcome cable TV alternative for those living in areas where cable provider choices are limited (or nonexistent).
Of course, there are limitations to what the service can do as well. For one, local broadcast stations are not included in the channel lineup. And, because it’s a “personal subscription service,” you’ll only be able to watch on one device at a time; loading the stream to an actual TV is apparently a technical challenge as well.
Limits aside, Recode’s Peter Kafka was optimistic about Sling’s impact on the future of cable, noting that, if nothing else, it represents a fascinating real-world experiment. “This is the first week in history that Americans can get subscription TV, over the Web, without having to sign up for cable,” he wrote. “I don’t think it’s the end of traditional pay TV, but I do think it’s a very big deal.”
Kafka adds that while we won’t know whether the experiment worked for months or even years, it will get a lot more interesting when competing services like HBO launch web subscriptions of their own later this year.
Photo Credit: Tom Godber via Flickr