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Dish Unveils Internet Pay-TV Service, Sling TV, Starting at $20 Per Month

Dish Network is taking the wraps off Sling TV, its long-awaited Internet pay-television service that initially will offer a smattering of a dozen channels — including top-rated cablers ESPN, TBS and TNT — priced at $20 per month.

Slated to launch sometime in the first quarter of 2015, Sling TV will feature networks from Disney/ESPN, Turner Broadcasting and Scripps Networks Interactive. The satcaster, which announced the service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, is aiming the stripped-down bundle at price-sensitive and Internet-savvy millennials who don’t currently subscribe to a pay-TV service.

The satcaster insists that Sling TV will not negatively impact Dish’s existing pay-TV services, which have about 14 million customers, and that it isn’t intended to win over the 100 million U.S. households that pay for cable, satellite or telco TV today.

The company estimates there are another 20 million American households without traditional pay-TV, comprising largely urban-dwelling consumers between 18 and 35.

“We see an opportunity with this group,” said Dish president and CEO Joe Clayton during the company’s press event on Monday. “We do not believe (the launch of Sling TV) will lead to cannibalization of our core TV business because we do not reach this millennial consumer segment today.”

The always boisterous Clayton was certainly ready to kick off CES to tout Dish’s newest products, coming out on stage with a marching band and a group of costumed characters dressed as kangaroos.

However, as much as Dish is positioning Sling TV as friendly to a younger audience, the over-the-top service will not include broadcast TV networks, a shortcoming that will certainly limit its appeal. As previously reported by Variety, Dish at some point anticipates being able to offer broadcast programming in a separate, premium tier.

Dish is launching the OTT service — which has been in the works for at least three years — through a newly formed standalone subsidiary, Sling TV LLC. Roger Lynch, previously Dish’s exec VP of advanced technologies, has been named CEO of the division.

The initial Sling TV package includes Disney/ESPN’s ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel and ABC Family; Scripps’ Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel; and Turner’s TNT, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. The service also will provide a selection of exclusive Internet video from Maker Studios, the YouTube-oriented multichannel network owned by Disney.

As for the absence of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and other broadcast nets, Sling TV is excluding those as a standard part of the service in order to keep the price point as low as possible, according to Lynch. “Those networks are becoming very expensive,” he said. In many cases, people without pay TV already access broadcast programming via an antenna or through Hulu, Lynch added.

Sling TV won’t include a DVR per se, but users will have on-demand access to recent shows on each channel, ranging from between the last three and seven days depending on programmer. The live and VOD content will be available anywhere in the U.S. — inside or outside a subscriber’s home. However, at least initially, Sling TV users will be limited to accessing only one video stream per account (so, for example, you couldn’t watch ESPN on the living-room TV and TBS on a tablet at the same time).

In addition, Dish is offering two add-on packages for access to additional programming, for $5 per month: a “Kids Extra” option with Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV; and a “News & Info Extra” add-on with HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg TV. Sling TV will add a “Sports Extra” soon. Meanwhile, the company last summer announced a deal with A+E Networks that grants Dish OTT rights, but none of the programmer’s channels are in the initial Sling TV lineup.

Sling TV provides an option between full-blown subscription TV and VOD services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, Lynch said. At a baseline $20 per month, it’s far less expensive than the average monthly pay-TV bill, which hit $92.61 in 2014, according to research firm SNL Kagan.

Unlike traditional cable or satellite TV, Sling TV will not include a proprietary set-top box. Instead, the service is available across a range of Internet-connected devices. Those include Roku’s set-top, HDMI adapter and Roku TVs; Amazon’s Fire TV box and Fire TV Stick; Google Nexus Player; LG Electronics’ smart TVs; select Samsung Smart TVs; Microsoft’s Xbox One; Macs and PCs; and smartphones and tablets running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems.

One concern for Sling TV: Cable providers could throttle the amount of bandwidth they allocate for OTT video services, or shift more aggressively to usage-based pricing. Dish has not officially taken a position on whether the FCC should reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. But Lynch, while he conceded the lack of broadband competition in the U.S. is a concern, argued that it’s in MSOs’ interests to fully support services like Sling TV because those will spur consumers to subscribe to their highest-bandwidth tiers.

Also at CES, Dish is introducing new products and features for its core satellite TV business, each of which is expected to be available in the summer of 2015:

  • 4K Ultra HD receiver: A new Ultra HD-capable Joey receiver, which requires customers to have a Hopper DVR as their primary set-top, will provide content in the high-resolution format from select partners.
  • Hopper voice-enabled remote control and redesigned interface: The new remote control adds voice recognition for TV commands and search and a clickable touchpad; the Hopper “Carbon” user interface provides a higher-contrast color scheme and is supposed to simplify navigation.
  • In-home streaming-music service: Subscribers can access Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn services over any Hopper or Joey set-top, as well as Vevo music videos.
  • Personal photos on TV: Dish is adding access to the Lyve photo-sharing service to Hopper and Joey.

Dish execs emphasized that the new Sling TV service is entirely separate from Slingbox, the line of place-shifting devices sold by EchoStar’s Sling Media. EchoStar acquired Sling Media in 2007 when EchoStar was also Dish’s parent company but the two entities subsequently split.

Shortly after Dish’s announcements, Sling Media announced said it will rename its Sling TV device — introduced this summer — to Slingbox 500. Slingbox 500 will continue to offer an onscreen gallery view, Rotten Tomatoes integration for movies, Thuuz integration for sports scores and statistics, and YouTube.

Sling TV was built using adaptive bit-rate video streaming technology developed by Move Networks, a startup EchoStar acquired in 2011.

In addition to the new service, the Sling TV subsidiary includes the DishWorld international OTT service, which provides nearly 200 channels in 16 languages across multiple devices to subscribers in the U.S. over broadband. DishWorld enabled the company to launch Sling TV, Clayton said, given that it already had the infrastructure in place. The DishWorld service will soon be renamed Sling International, while Sling Latino will also be launched to court another target audience.

(Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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