If you're on a Southwest Airlines flight between now and New Year's Eve, you're going to see a lot of Dish Network. The company logo will be on the waiting area monitors, the boarding passes, the airline's website, the in-flight magazines and the lips of the flight attendants—and rather than provide in-cabin televisions, Dish will run a free WiFi service enabled with both the usual on-demand offerings and its own live programming until Dec. 31.
"The origins of this idea actually stem back to our launch of Hopper with Sling this February," said Dish CMO James Moorhead. "We thought that partnering with Southwest, which is the largest carrier in the industry, was a great fit with Dish." Indeed, the two companies have a great deal in common. Both are willing to go to great lengths to keep their products competitive in markets that are assumed by most of their peers to be mature—in other words, markets where the vendor has the consumer over a barrel. Dish in particular has found itself at loggerheads with some of its providers over its Hopper service, which lets consumers skip commercials.
The latest edition of the Dish service is, if anything, even more controversial—the Hopper with Sling incorporates its sibling company Echostar's Slingbox technology, meaning that it lets the viewer watch his own specific cable subscription anywhere he wants. "We believe that if a family is paying to have content in their house, they should be able to access that content anywhere," said Moorhead bluntly. "That technology, which is proprietary and unique in the industry, is something that our competitors are kind of faking. Other competitors are essentially misleading consumers to be polite about it."
The tech may not sound like a huge deal at first, but when you factor in the range of blackout zones around local sports teams (and the fanaticism of sports fans), it's little wonder that Fox, for one, has sued—unsuccessfully, so far—to stop the sale of the product. Consumers and consumer advocates, on the other hand, love it. Imagine being able to watch Yes anywhere in the country. ("We do everything within the contractual boundaries of our contracts," Moorhead said.)
The push with Southwest includes other promotional options, as well. There's an iPad giveaway (the company's second this year alone), 500 frequent flier miles just for entering your information at the end of the flight, and 12,500 miles—enough for a free domestic flight—for signing on the dotted line with the TV provider. It's an aggressive strategy for a company known for aggression in negotiations, and in a market where competitors are making their peace with churn and even talking about wars of attrition with their subscribers, it's a strategy with promise.