Sling TV may have found another way to get access to those much-watched local broadcast feeds: The company has developed a TV tuner box that will grab free over-the-air broadcast signals and stream them to devices that have Sling’s app installed on them, according to a report by Zatz not Funny. A Sling TV spokesperson declined to comment.
The new device, dubbed AirTV, has been developed by Echostar, Dish’s corporate sibling for all things hardware, and is largely based on existing Slingbox hardware, according to the report. Slingbox, of course, has long been allowing users to relay their TV signals from one location to another with its devices, but had thus far no direct relations to Sling TV, despite their shared name.
Sling TV recently launched a new streaming package that includes local broadcast TV from Fox in a number of markets, and the company also has rights to stream ABC in some markets but hasn’t exercised those rights yet. Part of the problem is that broadcasters have been protective of their crown jewels, with Disney insisting that Sling TV only streams its programming to one subscriber at a time — a tough proposition for multi-family households looking to replace cable with the streaming service.
Getting local channels from an antenna could help Sling to fill those gaps, and also keep costs low for subscribers by essentially offering them local TV for free. However, it possibly also complicatse negotiations with broadcasters. Then again, Dish’s Charlie Ergen is known for using controversial features as a bargaining chip; Dish added automatic commercial skipping to its Hopper DVR in the past, only to disable it for TV networks willing to make a deal with Sling TV on streaming.
It’s worth noting that the combination of Sling TV and free over-the-air broadcast programming isn’t entirely new: Channel Master, which bills itself as a DVR for cord cutters, integrated Sling into its hardware earlier this year — hardware which was coincidentally also developed by Echostar.