Sling TV Hikes Price of Disney-ESPN Bundle to $25 Monthly, Launches Free Content for Ex-Subscribers

Sling TV, the original “skinny bundle” internet service that touts itself as an affordable, no-hassle alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV, is raising the price of its baseline package featuring Disney and ESPN networks by 25%.

It’s the kind of rate hike the pay-TV biz has foisted on consumers for years — and one of the top reasons people have gravitated to over-the-top services like Sling TV.

At the same time, Dish Network’s Sling TV is making a very un-cable move. In a bid to woo back customers who have canceled, Sling TV will offer free, ad-supported television programming and movies to former subscribers. In addition, it’s going to let ex-subs purchase Showtime, NBA League Pass and other channels à la carte, as well as rent on-demand movies from a library of 5,000-plus titles and order pay-per-view events — without the need to buy a TV bundle.

“It’s an evolutionary step for not only for Dish, but I think for the industry as a whole,” said Warren Schlichting, president of Sling TV.

Schlichting, who’s also in charge of Dish content acquisition and media sales, has been overseeing Sling TV for the past six months after Roger Lynch exited to become Pandora’s CEO last year. According to Schlichting, he discovered that a “fairly significant” percentage of Sling’s activations are restarts — customers who paid for the service for a time, canceled, and then came back. “That led us to this idea that we want to provide value to them even if they’re not paying us,” he said. “We’re in the relationship business.”

And Sling may see an uptick in cancellations now that it’s upping the price of its popular Orange package.

Sling TV’s Orange package, a bundle of 30-plus channels that includes ESPN and Disney networks, has cost $20 per month since it was introduced in early 2015. That’s now going up to $25 for new subscribers as of June 28; existing Sling TV Orange customers will pay the higher rate starting in August.

“We’ve been able to hold the price at $20 for three years. But programming costs go only one direction,” Schlichting said. “At some stage we needed to be healthy and viable.”

Sling TV’s Blue bundle, which includes Fox sports and entertainment nets, will remain $25 per month, and the combo price (for all networks in the Orange and Blue tiers) will remain $40.

It’s worth noting that Google’s YouTube TV this spring raised the price of its skinny bundle to $40 per month after adding Turner networks to the lineup (although customers who subscribed at the original $35 monthly price point, for now, will not see their rates increase).

Customers who have bailed on Sling TV will now be invited to come back to access to a range of free and à la carte premium video. When they reopen the Sling TV app, in what the company is calling “the new Sling TV experience,” returning customers will be able to access more than 100 hours of free, ad-supported TV shows and movies without restarting their subscription. At launch, shows will include TBS’s “Wrecked” and “The Detour”; TNT’s “The Last Ship” and “Good Behavior”; TruTV’s “Impractical Jokers”; HGTV’s “Flip or Flop”; Food Network’s “Food Network Star”; and programming from A+E Networks’ History.

In an industry first for any pay-TV distributor, Sling TV will let ex-customers buy à la carte subscriptions to eight channels without requiring them take a base TV bundle. The initial channels available are: Showtime ($10 per month), NBA League Pass ($28.99 monthly), CuriosityStream ($6), Stingray Karaoke ($7), Cinedigm’s Dove Channel ($5), Outside TV Features ($5), Up Faith & Family ($5), and Lionsgate-Hemisphere Media Group’s Pantaya ($6), a Spanish-language entertainment service. (Existing Sling TV customers also can purchase the à la carte channels on top of their base services.)

At launch, the free content and à la carte options will be available to ex-Sling customers only on Roku devices, with other Sling-supported devices (like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and iOS and Android devices) to be upgraded in the near future.

Down the road, Sling TV may extend those features to people who haven’t previously subscribed, as a new on-ramp for customer acquisition, Schlichting said.

Today, Sling TV is the biggest over-the-top “virtual” pay-TV service. It had 2.3 million subscribers as of the end of the first quarter 2018, according to Dish. AT&T’s DirecTV Now tallied 1.46 million subscribers as of Q1 while Hulu With Live TV recently hit 800,000.

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