Dish-owned live TV service Sling TV is looking to catch up with competitors by launching new features like user profiles and promising more changes in 2023. The company quietly began rolling out the user profiles feature ahead of last week’s consumer eShow, initially on Android TV devices. and Fire TV, with support for more platforms in the near future.
Over the past several months, it’s also been expanding new direct-to-consumer subscription integrations with the addition of Discovery+, which joins the 50 other services now available through Sling. It made Sports Scores available across Roku, Fire TV, and Android TV devices.
Sports Scores has been rolling out to users since last year, making it easy to access scores from NFL, College Football, NBA, NHL and MLB games while still watching live TV or on-demand programming. Meanwhile, Sling TV’s suite of subscriptions, now close to 50 services, has been available since last August.
Combined with the rollout of user profiles (which have yet to be officially announced), the changes point to a streamer again trying to innovate to attract subscribers.
Despite being one of the early pioneers of live TV, launching in 2015, Sling TV has lost its appeal as newer services such as Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV hit the market. During the first three quarters of last year, Sling TV struggled with subscriber losses, for example. However, the company recently reversed that downward trend in its Q3 2022 earnings in November, when it reported a total of 2.41 million subscribers after 214,000 net additions. But that number is still less than the 2.6 million subscribers Sling TV had in the third quarter of 2021, for comparison.
Sling TV needs to do more – and faster.
TechCrunch sat down with Sling TV EVP and President of Sling TV, Gary Schanman, in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, to find out what’s next for the service in the coming months.
Sling TV parent Dish recruited an industry vet last year, whose experience includes pay TV with roles at Spectrum, Charter, Cablevision (now Altice USA), and in the broadcast space. Most recently, Shanman served as Director of Product at Common Sense Networks, where he led the launch of the children’s safe streaming service Sensical. Now he hopes to revitalize the Sling TV brand.
“Over the next quarters, you will see much faster product and product portfolio innovation,” Schanman told TechCrunch. “When people join our company, we expect them to be creative and innovative and be about winning. And so we’ve started bringing more people into the company to help grow that,” he said.
The company is also looking at how to better serve different types of streamers and their needs in the coming year.
“We’re focused on helping consumers find, consume, and interact with all the content they want. And we’re comfortable with a variety of different types of consumers that have different needs. That includes… the people who keep our paid services — and they’re fully subscribed to all of our add-on packages.” “But it could also be people who have been coming over for a while and want to watch some free content,” Shanman said.
“Free is part of our ideas about how we think about that interaction with the customer. We want a lifelong relationship with the subscriber where they see value in what we offer – and [free content is] piece of it.”
Schanman couldn’t comment specifically on what Sling TV has in mind about what kind of free streaming plans are coming up.
But in general, the streaming industry has shifted much of its focus in recent months to serving free-to-consumer “live TV” channels, also known as FAST channels, which appear in a network-like guide that looks more like a cable TV experience instead. of ad-supported video on demand. Roku, for example, has launched FAST channels via its Live TV guide as Amazon did with Freevee, as well as offerings from Pluto TV, Xumo, and Plex. For some services, the idea is to attract customers with free streaming — as Roku does via its free movie and TV hub, the Roku Channel — and then sell them paid streaming subscriptions.
Of course, if Sling TV were to go further than the free route, it could complicate its relationship with streaming media platforms, like Roku and Amazon, that are willing to direct consumers to their free streaming products.
In addition to its plans for product innovation, Schanman believes Sling TV has other advantages, including being simple and easy to use. He also described the reliability of the service. It’s been a long time since “Game of Thrones” has had its service down, after all. But what Sling TV touts as simple can also be considered bare bones, depending on who you ask.
However, the company believes that Sling TV’s biggest advantage isn’t necessarily its user interface, but how it organizes its programming into le affordable packages. Today, the streaming device sets itself apart with a la carte programming packages that start with a basic subscription (Sling TV’s “Orange” or “Blue” packages) and several add-ons. Meanwhile, competing services tend to bundle more channels into one offering, forcing subscribers to pay ever-higher prices as new deals are struck.
“From a live TV perspective, we still have the best value in the market by far. We also have the most flexibility in the market. The fact is, you know, I think we’re very customer oriented. Most of our competitors are what I would call surrogates. True one-to-one cables, but in some cases they are more expensive.
He said the company plans to talk more about the affordability of Sling TV in the coming months. This message is timely, as consumers are beginning to feel the financial implications of having too many streaming options and facing a market where live TV plans are no longer cheaper than traditional cable TV.
“We start at $40. So our flexibility and options are a huge value proposition in the market,” the CEO explained. “You can switch between packages any time you want. We have over six add-on packages that, when added up, are still less than what you would have to pay for YouTube TV or Hulu TV.” “The more choice the consumer has, the greater the value of our service in the market, because portfolio share is being challenged across the board,” said Shanman.