Wolverton: Sling TV a promising alternative to cable TV

I really like the idea of Sling TV, but I’m not entirely sold on Dish’s new low-cost pay TV service.

On first blush, Sling TV, which Dish announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, sounds great. For only $20 a month, you can watch some of the top cable channels, including ESPN, CNN and TBS. Better yet, you don’t need to  sign a long-term contract; instead you subscribe on a monthly basis. And the price is not an introductory offer, but Dish’s regular rate.

And there’s more to like. With Sling TV, which is expected to launch next month, you can watch live programming or view previously broadcast shows on demand. You have access to a wide variety of movies that you can rent. And if you want a few more channels to choose from, you can sign up for Sling’s “Extra” packages for $5 each. At launch, the company will be offering extra packages of kids and news channels and it plans to offer a sports package also.

Even apart from its price, Sling TV represents an effort to offer a new kind of pay TV. The service is delivered over the Internet, instead of through a cable provider or via satellite transmissions. Instead of needing a set-top box, users can tune into it with a wide variety of Internet-connected devices, including computers, smartphones, certain smart televisions, Microsoft’s Xbox One game console and several digital media players, including Roku’s.

And instead of offering several hundred channels, Sling TV only offers a handful of the most popular ones — just 12 cable channels in the basic package.

Dish is targeting the service not at traditional pay TV customers, but at those who have opted out of pay TV — both those who have already “cut the cord” and cancelled their service and those that have never signed up for pay TV service at all.

The service could prove attractive to some in those groups, because it offers access to some popular channels at a bargain price. But to appeal more widely, it has some shortcomings it needs to work out.

A more pressing issue for many consumers is likely to be the channel selection. Twelve channels just isn’t a whole lot. You may not want or need the hundreds of channels in the typical cable package, but the channels you are interested in may not be in the Sling TV package. Among the notable missing channels: USA, FX, SyFy, Bravo, AMC and Fox News. At least for now, none of those channels are offered in any of the extra packages either.

Another shortcoming is the lack of on-demand television programs. Unlike a typical pay TV service, Sling TV doesn’t offer a DVR or a way to record live programs. Instead, it directs users to a list of previously aired programs that users can watch on-demand. Unfortunately, you can find such on-demand programs on only a few of the channels. You can’t watch anything from ESPN on demand, for example, or anything from TBS.

Programming issues aside, I also ran into a technical bug. Several times when I was scrolling through Sling TV stations or programs, the device became unresponsive; I’d press a button and nothing would happen. Eventually the service would become unstuck, but it was frustrating to have to wait for that.

Sling TV may be the future of television. But at least right now, it needs a bit more work.

Photo of Sling TV’s interface courtesy of Dish.


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  • Dan

    Among the notable missing channels: USA, FX, SyFy, Bravo, AMC and Fox News…..

    Provide those (although I am probably good without Fox) AND an integrated DVR (programming info and ability to search, schedule series, etc) and I would consider jumping away from my long term and full package Direct TV subscription–not because I don’t like DTV, but really paying $120+ a month for a majority of programming I do not care about?

  • Rick

    My “must have” channel is Turner Classic Movies. I’ve had Dish since 1996, and TCM’s my favorite channel. As it is, I’m paying $110 a month for a bunch of stuff I never watch. (I do have HBO, mostly so I can get HBO-GO for streaming)

    I’m watching this VERY closely. During Dish’s spat with Turner a couple of months ago, I came very close to dropping the whole thing. I know of several people that are looking at this as well. Cable / satellite pricing has become ridiculous, in my opinion.

  • Sam Nicholson

    I can’t wait. I called my cable provider and asked for the cheapest package whereon I could watch the Alabama-Ohio State game. $129/month with a 24 month commit. $165/month otherwise, with 3 months up front.

    ESPN has been used by the cable companies to bundle all sorts of CR**. Sure, there’s other stuff I’d like to see. Sure ESPN is fast becoming a monopoly of college sports programming. But $20/month is less than the cost of going to my local sports bar to watch a game.

    Stop criticizing a low cost service for not being a high cost service. You might scare them off.


  • Test Universe

    I would not hold your breath for anything related to Fox 🙂 Charlie Ergan and Rupert Murdoch have a hate hate relationship. Personally I would nope out of the Dish offer if Fox News Was on the list. There is only so much Mad TV one can watch. 🙂

  • Stu

    It seems to me that the omission of Fox “News” makes the Sling TV offering more valuable.

  • Nate M

    Not having FOX News is a great selling point, not a negative factor. I’m not into watching fantasy, anyway.