Having had the chance to experience Sling TV ahead of its official launch, I am extremely impressed with its interface, its ambitions, and its potential. Still, it is far from an end-all replacement for cable, and cord-cutters – especially millennial ones – will, at first, need to supplement Sling TV with some combination of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime subscriptions to have the content options they likely want. With the $20 per month Sling TV subscription, and the additional costs of Netflix and Hulu Plus, the question then becomes why not just subscribe to cable?
Let’s start with the good: Sling TV is available on essentially every over-the-top platform on the market, on iOS and Android, and on select Samsung Smart TVs. The standard $20 per month plan includes ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. For an extra $5 per month, per additional package, Sling TV will offer “Kids Extra,” “News & Info Extra,” and soon “Sports Extra,” which will feature more premium channels.
Sling TV also features a great video on demand experience and DVR-like features. I was able to fast-forward and rewind live channels, and some channels even feature three-day replay, allowing one to go back and watch past airings of shows.
One of my favorite aspects of Sling TV is the beautiful UI (see image below). Cable service providers are somehow still far behind in enhancing the channel-surfing experience, but this is something Sling TV has certainly gotten right. This goes for both live TV viewing and on demand services, and even Netflix and Amazon can take cues here.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, ‘the bad’ for Sling TV centers on its initial content options. They essentially boil down to the Disney, Scripps, and Turner family of networks – and this either skews too young or too old. A recent college graduate deciding between Sling TV and spending more on cable is going to quickly realize that they are limited to ‘House Hunters,’ ‘SportsCenter,’ and ‘Cupcake Wars,’ when they really want to be watching ‘Broad City’ (Comedy Central), ‘Shondaland’ (ABC), ‘Transparent’ (Amazon) and ‘Orange is the New Black’ (Netflix). The costs, then, start to add up.
Sling TV will need to work hard to secure content partnerships with networks that millenials want to watch, and they will still need to manage to keep costs low. This will be extremely tricky. Sling TV is touting a channel from Maker Studios but these MCN channels for TV have been tried before and have yet to catch on.
Another issue is Sling TV’s initial channel offerings are available to the savvy cord cutter already. Roku and tablet owners need only to ask 10 or 15 friends before they have logins to HBO GO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, ESPN, and NBA Gametime. The Turner and Scripps offerings are available on cable providers’ TV Everywhere apps, so if one really needs to see the next episode of ‘Property Brothers,’ they can turn there. Sure, some folks rather pay for convenience (which is why they would pony up for cable, which, with internet, would maybe only cost $15-$20 more per month), but many others are very willing to go above and beyond in order to pay less – and Sling TV, for now, will have a hard time capturing this audience.
One thing that would make Sling TV more attractive, outside of additional content partnerships – which I am confident will happen shortly – would be to work on integrating other services and channels that customers subscribe to into their platform. No cord-cutting platform on the market right now matches Sling TV’s interface, so if the company can secure API partnerships with Hulu or Amazon, or even do this with a digital antenna manufacturer to pull in local channels, people will gravitate more toward the service. At a time when content is becoming more plentiful and the means by which to access it becomes more fragmented, one central platform would solve a lot of cord-cutting problems.
More, since Sling TV customers will skew younger, working to integrate Twitter or Facebook streams and recommendations, like XBox One has, into the platform would be an easy and welcome addition.
For cord-nevers and those contemplating cord-cutting, my recommendation for now would be to keep your cable package or continue to use your Apple TV or Roku as you have been. But, keep an eye on Sling TV news in the coming three to six months – it is the one of the best cord-cutting solutions to date, and it certainly has the potential to rival traditional cable packages in the near future.
Sling TV is offering new users a one-week free trial. Give it a try and let us know what you think in the comments.