“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years.”
That’s Apple CEO Tim Cook talking about the state of the television industry in 2012 to Brian Williams of NBC.
Cook is mostly correct. How we watch TV today isn’t dramatically different from how we watched TV in 2000, which wasn’t dramatically different from how we watched it in 1990, which, really, wasn’t all that different from how we watched in 1980.
It’s a little different. In 1980, we mostly didn’t have cable. In 1990, we did. In 2000, we had a lot more channels. And today, we have more channels, plus DVR, and fancier menus, plus some on-demand options, plus Netflix.
But, the essence of TV is basically the same. We get a bundle of channels, many of which we don’t even want, delivered to our big screen TVs.
Meanwhile, every other mass media industry has been shaken up thanks to the internet. Newspapers have collapsed as news has gone digital. The music industry has been decimated as MP3s became easily shared for free.
After those two industries were shaken, many believed it was only a matter of time until the same thing happened to the TV industry.
Yet, nothing has really changed for TV. It’s just as powerful, and lucrative, as ever.
While many people have expected Apple to do something to change the TV industry, it has yet to make a substantial move.
Instead, one of the TV industries own companies is finally trying to do something to shake things up.
Satellite TV company Dish TV is launching Sling TV, an internet-based $US20 per month subscription service that delivers a bundle of 12 channels: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN.
Sling TV will be available to the general public in a few weeks. Dish hasn’t picked a specific launch date, but it says that people who sign up for the service on its site will be notified as soon as its ready. Some people that signed up will be getting early invites to Sling.
I was given early access to Sling as a reviewer. I’ve been using it on my iPhone 6 Plus, and through a Roku that was provided for me by Dish.
I like Sling, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the channels above but is uninterested in signing up for a traditional pay TV package. However, there are some things people should be aware of. It’s not for everyone.
Sling TV is still, very much, a first version product. It’s not perfect. When I load channels, I get “buffering” for a few seconds before the channel kicks in. On my big screen TV, the picture is not as good as the crisp HD picture I get from my Verizon FiOS.
If, like me, you subscribe to traditional TV, you’re probably used to rich menus, and DVR features. Sling TV doesn’t have them. There is no DVR. For the Food Network, HGTV, and Travel Channel, there is a 3-day replay feature, which lets you watch anything aired in the past three days. But, it’s not the easiest thing to use.
And, in general, flipping around with the channels isn’t the best system I could imagine. It works fine for 12 channels, but if this ever expands, it’s going to get messy.
There’s other problems: It doesn’t have the broadcast channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX. There’s not a ton of great shows on those networks anymore, but they do have live sports, and big events like the Oscars that people want to watch. If you want to see those shows, you’ll need bunny ears.
All of that said, I still think this is a pretty good service for someone that wants TV, but doesn’t want to pay the hefty price most cable companies charge.
If you subscribe to TV through Comcast and love your current TV set up, this isn’t for you. But, it’s not supposed to be for you. Sling says it’s targeting “millennials” who it says are not paying for TV. It says millennials are using services like Netflix and Spotify that charge a monthly subscription fee and let them get their content where ever they are whenever they want it. Sling TV fits in that category.
Using Sling through a Roku shows how we are starting to get a slight change to TV as we’ve known it. For $US30 per month, I can get the 12 channels from Sling, and Netflix. I can hop between Netflix’s good on-demand movies and TV shows and ESPN, HGTV, et al. It’s still a little bit janky, moving from thing to thing, but it’s not horrible. And, it’s only going to get better.
This year, HBO will start selling web-only subscriptions to HBO. Previously, the only way to get HBO was if you had cable. HBO’s standalone web-based service will reportedly cost $US15.
So, by the end of the year, for ~$US45 per month, you could have Netflix, HBO, and all the channels offered by Sling TV. That might sound expensive, but Sling says the average consumer is paying $US90 per month for TV. And, as we all know, we’re not even watching half of the channels we pay for.
It’s may not be pretty, and it may not be perfect, but the TV industry in 2015 is finally starting to look a little bit different.