Place-shifting TV hasn’t been a raging success for EchoStar’s Sling Media, especially compared with DVRs. Its biggest base of customers has been sports enthusiasts, who want to watch their home teams in action while they’re on the road.
But now the device maker is introducing its lowest-cost Slingbox device to date, priced at $150, and launching a new on-screen guide for the new higher-end SlingTV model, in a bid to make the experience of watching pay-TV over the Internet on an array of devices simpler.
“We want to reach mainstream consumers — the moms in the family — with an enhanced living-room TV experience,” said Michael Hawkey, SVP and g.m. of Sling Media. The company positions the Slingbox as fully delivering on the promise of “TV Everywhere,” with not just live TV but DVR recordings and access to VOD as well. (EchoStar has not disclosed how many Slingbox units it has sold.)
Sling Media was acquired by EchoStar in 2007 for $380 million. At the time, EchoStar was the parent company of Dish Network (the two entities subsequently split) and the satcaster had expected place-shifting to be a breakthrough feature akin to DVR.
That never happened, but Dish has since incorporated Slingbox features into its Hopper DVR and says it’s a popular feature. Fox Broadcasting has launched a legal challenge to the place-shifting technology, arguing that it violates the broadcaster’s terms with Dish. But so far, Dish has consistently prevailed, winning its fifth legal victory in the case earlier this week in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
EchoStar’s new Slingbox M1, with a retail price of $149.99, replaces the Slingbox 350. The new unit has a smaller form factor and includes integrated Wi-Fi. In addition, Sling is introducing the new Slingplayer for Desktop, software for Macs and PCs that it says improves setup and configuration to let users get up and running in less than 10 minutes.
The $300 SlingTV, meanwhile, replaces the Slingbox 500. The newer box has the same form factor as its predecessor, but includes new “Smarter TV” features with an electronic programming guide that uses cover-art tiles — similar to a TiVo. That’s supposed to let customers discover more of their existing pay-TV programming in an easy-to-navigate interface. “This is the only TV guide you need,” said Hawkey, noting that the guide provides content recommendations based on popularity, reviews and social activity.
EchoStar said the M1 will be available in retail stores, through Sling.com and online partners on July 20. The SlingTV is slated to be available in late August; existing Slingbox 500 customers will automatically receive the SlingTV software upgrade at that time as well.