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Sling TV Emphasizes On-Demand Content with New Interface, May Launch Multiple Streams This Year

Sling TV would like consumers to know that it’s a lot more like Netflix than you might think. The Dish-owned internet TV service unveiled a new user interface at CES in Las Vegas Tuesday that puts a much bigger emphasis on on-demand content, making it easier to discover movies and TV show episodes without the traditional TV guide grid.

Sling TV, which launched at the consumer electronics show a year ago, always had on-demand content in addition to live TV programming. But with its existing apps, those on-demand shows were buried — and it didn’t exactly help that only some of the networks are making their content available on demand.

“People don’t realize we have the entire HBO catalog,” said Sling Chief Product Officer Ben Weinberger during a recent interview with Variety. The new interface is “a lot more about the content vs. the channels,” he added.

To that effect, Sling has introduced a new section called “My TV” that lists a consumer’s favorite TV shows and movies, as well as categories that make it easier to search TV show and movie catalogs, regardless of the network they’re playing on. There will also be some personalization to surface content based both on past viewing behaviour as well as the time of the day and even the device with which Sling TV is being watched. You just don’t watch the same things on your phone in the office as on your TV on a Saturday night.

The service hasn’t ditched the grid completely, with Sling CEO Roger Lynch insisting: “Live is still going to be a cornerstone of our service.” But the new interface is clearly a step away from the world of traditional TV services. “We wanted to create something that’s more like Spotify, and less like Comcast,” said Lynch. Sling’s new user interface will launch during the first quarter on select devices, and reach additional platforms later this year.

SEE MORE: Dish’s Core TV Business Is Shrinking at ‘Shocking’ Rate: Analyst

Sling and Dish executives haven’t given any updates on Sling TV subscriber numbers since revealing that it gained 169,000 customers in the first three months of 2015; some analysts estimate that Sling’s total customer base is below 500,000.

Lynch instead touted the number of channels Sling TV is offering its customers now. The streaming service offers live programming from 23 channels as part of its base package, and a total of 65 channels if you count all available add-on packages as well. In addition, Sling is offering expats over 300 channels as part of its Sling International and Sling Latino packages.

The service now wants to make it easier for consumers to discover and add these add-on packages by allowing them to directly purchase additional channels through Sling’s mobile and TV interfaces. And Sling is also adding ESPN3 to its base package, a first in the TV services industry. Previously, ESPN exclusively sold ESPN3 through partnerships with internet service providers.

Sling wants to add additional channels to both its base and add-on packages — just don’t expect a broadcast package any time soon. “We’d like to offer broadcast channels,” said Lynch, but quickly added that he doesn’t want to be forced to sell them to every consumer signing up for his service. And with most broadcasters insisting on such provisions, it’s unlikely Sling will add CBS or Fox in the coming months.

However, Sling may add something else that its users have been requesting for some time: the ability to stream programming to multiple devices at the same time. Currently, Sling restricts every account to a single simultaneous stream, in part because its deal with Disney doesn’t allow for multiple streams. But Lynch told Variety that all of the company’s deals with other content partners allow for multiple streams, adding that Sling is now “exploring to do multiple streams” in the future.

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