nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Sling TV: a modern linear TV service hamstrung by rights holders

Sling TV from Dish

Simplicity of design and solid streaming performance make Sling TV from Dish a pleasure to use for linear channel viewing. Unfortunately, the lack of trick-play and replay rights to much of the content will blunt its appeal to many.

I had a chance to spend some time over the weekend with Sling TV, the new over-the-top pay TV service from Dish Network. When it comes to viewing live linear channels, I found the video and audio quality to be excellent, and the channel change time acceptable. On my Nexus 7 tablet it appeared to take between 2 to 3 seconds to change channel, not out of line with Dish’ satellite service.

Dish has eschewed the traditional grid guide, providing a grid “ribbon” in the bottom third of the screen. Channels are on the top of the ribbon, and what is playing on the highlighted channel shows below the channel ribbon. Scroll right to see what’s coming up, scroll left to see what you’ve just missed. Select a show to find out more. This paradigm is pretty much the same on the two devices I tried Sling TV on: a Nexus 7 tablet and a Roku 3 set-top box.

The guide worked very well for the 20 channels I had available in the version I was using. However, I suspect this approach would not work nearly so well if there were hundreds of channels available. On surprising omission from the guide is the ability to set a reminder. Given that the majority of channels provide no replay ability, missing shows becomes a real problem for users of the service.

Where Sling TV really shines is with channels that allow trick play: the ability to pause, rewind and catch-up with missed episodes. Pause, rewind and fast-forward worked pretty much as the 50% of US homes with a DVR have come to expect. Even the responsiveness of the controls felt on a par with a physical DVR. The ability to go left in the schedule ribbon to find missed shows was very easy to use, even when the show desired was broadcast a full 3 days ago (the maximum length of time a show is available for replay.)

This made it all the more jarring when I tuned to a channel that did not support trick play functions. Not being able to pause a show when the phone rings will be a huge problem for many. For a product that is very much a modern take on broadcast television, it’s like turning the clock back to the age of appointment television when watching Disney and TBS. It is such a shame that so many of the channels available through Sling TV prevent trick play. This is something Dish will have to rectify with rights holders soon if it is to do well with the service.

Sling TV does provide access to a good selection of on-demand movies: new titles like Lucy, Guardians of the Galaxy and The BoxTrolls are available along with an extensive array of library content. Nothing that I could find was available for free, with prices for HD playback running from $4.99 to $10.99.

I’m impressed with the interface and functionality of Sling TV: what has been implemented works well. With a lot more flexibility from rights holders, Sling TV could be strong option for many of the people with broadband, but without a pay TV subscription.

You can read how well I think Sling TV will do in the market here.

[Update 2/9/15 9AM] Sling TV has exited the invite-only beta and anyone can sign up. The service has also added AMC to the basic line-up.

The bottom line

The good: Excellent picture quality, simple and intuitive guide, channel change and trick play responsiveness

The bad: Most channels do not support trick play and replay services, lack of reminders

Who should consider it: If you want to watch linear TV on all your devices, can’t or won’t afford full pay TV and can live without DVR functionality on most channels, Sling TV could be for you.

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One Comment

  1. It would be hard to make this user interface work smooth with a hundred of channels. What if we can predict what a customer want to watch and filter our irrelevant content and channels?

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