Sling TV Bows ‘Watch Party’ Featuring Voice, Text

With most TV viewers multitasking on social media, Dish Network’s online TV streaming service, Sling TV, Sept. 23 launched a new feature in beta, “Sling Watch Party,” which enables subscribers to connect via voice and text with non-subscribing friends and family in remote locations to stream programming together — a first for the live television industry.

Through a special beta preview of Sling Watch Party ending Sept. 30, invited guests may attend a Watch Party simply by creating a Sling TV account.

“We know that for so many, it’s not just about what you are watching, it’s who you are watching with,” Jon Lin, VP of product, said in a statement. “We could all use more time together to enjoy our favorite sports and entertainment, which is why we created this new feature.”

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Sling Watch Party features include:

  • Video and text chat: Connect in real-time with other SLING Watch Party guests while viewing a program, via video or text chat.
  • Audio and visual controls: All participants have full control over their own video camera, the volume of their individual content stream and volume of video chat streams received from other participants.
  • Player controls: Slingers hosting a Watch Party can manage player controls, including play, pause and rewind for on-demand programming.
  • Sling TV programming: Choose from live or on-demand content available in Sling Orange, Sling Blue, Sling Latino and Sling International services, or any Sling TV Extra, depending on a customer’s current subscription.

 

The feature is available on Google Chrome web browsers and allows subscribers to invite up to three guests to for shared TV viewing.

To host a “watch party,” sign in on sling.com via Google Chrome web browser. Select any eligible live or on-demand title from a Sling TV ribbon; a Watch Party may be created up to 60 minutes prior to air time, for live program. Click “create watch party” from the title’s information screen. Invite up to three guests to join via a unique, shareable link or email. Click “start watching” when the selected title is scheduled to begin.

Dish Loses 96,000 Pay-TV Subs in Q2, Including 56,000 Sling TV Accounts

Dish Network Aug. 7 said it lost 96,000 pay-TV subscribers in the second quarter (ended June 30), including 56,000 Sling TV paid members. That compared with a loss of 79,000 pay-TV subs during the previous-year period, in addition to a gain of 48,000 Sling TV customers.

The company closed the quarter with 11.27 million pay-TV subscribers, including 9.02 million Dish TV subs and 2.25 million Sling TV subs. The online TV service has now lost more than 200,000 subs in the previous 12 months of the fiscal year, ending the prior-year period with 2.47 million subs.

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The satellite TV operator attributed the subscriber losses to ongoing economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including unemployment and loss of live sports programming. Sling TV launched in 2015 as the first online TV service, including the first to offer ESPN as part of non-traditional pay-TV bundle.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption in certain commercial segments served by Dish, including the hospitality and airline industries,” the company said in a statement.

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Dish said increased competition, including competition from other subscription video on-demand and online TV service providers have negatively impacted sub growth. Indeed, with the exception of Sony killing PlayStation Vue, the online TV market now includes AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Philo, FuboTV and Hulu with Live TV, among others.

Dish reported quarterly profit of $452 million on revenue of $3.19 billion. That compared with profit of $317 million on revenue of $3.21 billion in the previous-year period.

Sling TV Gets New Group President

Michael Schwimmer has been named group president of Sling TV, following the departure of Warren Schlichting, Dish Network Corp. announced.

Schwimmer, who returned to Dish in June 2019 to lead international business development and strategy, will report to Dish CEO Erik Carlson.

During his career at Dish, which began in 1996, Schwimmer led the company’s marketing, programming and media sales organizations and played a key role in launching the Dish International and DishLATINO brands. In addition to his work on Sling TV’s international business, he honed his over-the-top expertise at Fuse Media, where he served as president and CEO. In his new role, Schwimmer will be responsible for all aspects of the Sling TV business. He has also assumed responsibility for Dish Media Sales.

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Kevin Arrix, SVP, Dish Media Sales, will now report to Schwimmer, and will continue to be responsible for the company’s advertising sales, analytics and operations.

Dish Lost Record 413,000 Q1 Pay-TV Subs; Sling TV Down Too

Citing the ongoing coronavirus health care crisis, Dish Network May 7 said it lost a record 413,000 pay-TV subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31). That included 250,000 commercial accounts the satellite TV operator suspended due to a lack of sports programming and shuttered retail establishments. Dish lost 259,000 pay-TV subs in the previous-year quarter.

Meanwhile, Dish’s pioneering online TV platform, Sling TV, ended the quarter with 2.31 million subs — down from 2.42 million subs during the previous-year period. The company closed the quarter with 11.32 million pay-TV subs, including 9.01 million Dish subs.

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Net income attributable to Dish Network totaled $73 million for the quarter, compared with $340 million from the year-ago period.

“We have faced, and could continue to face, fewer subscriber activations and increased subscriber churn rate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening of the global business and economic environment,” Dish said in a statement.

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The distributor said the pandemic caused “severe disruption” in certain commercial segments, including the hospitality and airline industries — both virtually shut down since March.

CEO Charlie Ergen has called for a refund from Disney-owned ESPN due to a lack of live-sports programming, among other grievances.

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Sling TV Offering Free Service During Coronavirus Crisis

Sling TV March 18 announced a new promotion to provide consumers without a subscription free access to select news and entertainment content as the nation confronts the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Launched in 2015 by Dish Network, Sling TV was the first standalone online TV platform featuring premium channel ESPN and marketed as an alternative to the traditional pay-TV bundle and SVOD.

“To stay informed in these uncertain times, Americans need access to news from reputable sources,” Warren Schlichting, group president, Sling TV, said in a statement. “With many Americans finding themselves staying at home, we have an opportunity to use our platform to help them deal with this rapidly evolving situation.”

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Free access includes ad-supported movies and shows suitable for kids and families, in addition to ABC News Live, a 24/7 streaming video news channel for breaking news and live events. Access is available through an app download on a Roku, Amazon or Android device, or by visiting sling.com on a Chrome, Safari or Edge browser and following the instructions on the welcome screen.

Current Sling TV subscribers can access free content within the user interface on any supported device, without changing their service plan.

Dish is also offering the Sling Blue service plan for $20 the first month (a $10 discount). In addition to free content, Sling streams channels, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, through its base services, Sling Orange and Sling Blue, starting at $30 per month.

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AT&T Keeping DirecTV Cards Close to Vest

Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen may think it’s “inevitable” about a satellite TV merger with AT&T’s DirecTV, but AT&T COO John Stankey is keeping his cards close to the vest.

Speaking March 3 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Stankey appeared open to industry consolidation while underscoring the strength of satellite TV’s rural customers.

Characterizing any merger as “a little problematic” due to regulatory issues, Stankey reiterated that the $48.5 billion acquisition of El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV in 2015 was always about securing video customers for future distribution technology, i.e. over-the-top video and high=speed Internet.

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“We will continue to offer satellite and DirecTV where it has a rightful place in the market, places where cable broadband is not prevalent, oftentimes, more rural or less dense suburban areas,” Stankey said. “We’ll continue to offer it for customers on a stand-alone basis, who find its superior content offering to be something that they wish to have.”

AT&T’s WarnerMedia Entertainment is about to launch subscription service HBO Max in May, while just-released AT&T TV (formerly DirecTV Now) bowed March 2.

“We’re really pleased with what we saw [with AT&T TV] … that we would be able to replicate how customers were receiving the product in the other markets that we would enter where we own facilities and are able to pair video with broadband,” Stankey said.

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Regardless, at the time of the 2015 acquisition, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV had a combined 26 million customers in the United States and more than 19 million customers in Latin America, including Mexico and the Caribbean.

Flash-forward to the end of 2019 and AT&T had 19.5 million domestic pay-TV subscribers, with another 13.3 million in Latin America. That’s a decline of 25% and 30%, respectively.

Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett contends regulatory issues shouldn’t be a problem for DirecTV and Dish as they were in 2002 when the Justice Department sued to block a deal, saying the merger would stifle competition and hurt consumers.

“Satellite TV was growing by leaps and bounds at the time. Now it is in free fall. That alone may be enough to settle the debate; sure, two would be better than one, but both are credible bankruptcy risks on their own. Heck, they’d be a credible bankruptcy risk even together,” Moffett wrote in Sept. 30, 2019 note.

He contends a merger argument could best be presented to regulators as an act of preserving pay-TV for rural Americans without access to high-speed Internet.

“[That] would be a reasonably persuasive one,” Moffet wrote.

 

AMC Networks Inks Expanded Deal With Dish/Sling TV

A day before it announces fourth-quarter fiscal results, AMC Networks Feb. 25 unveiled a new long-term distribution agreement with Dish Network and Sling TV that includes continued carriage of AMC Networks’ linear channels AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC World News, as well as the launch in the coming months of AMC Networks’ SVOD services Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and Urban Movie Channel (“UMC”); AMC Networks’ ad-free offering AMC Premiere; and its IFC Films Unlimited streaming service.

Acorn TV, acquired through AMC Networks’ majority purchase of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment, streams British-centric programming to more than one million paid subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.

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Shudder streams original and licensed horror and suspense content, including original series, “Creepshow,” and documentary, “Horror Noire.”

Sundance Now streams original and exclusive series from true crime to dramas and thrillers from around the world, including “Discovery of Witches,” “Riviera” and “Killing for Love.”

UMC (Urban Movie Channel) also came with the RLJE acquisition as the first subscription streaming service created for African American audiences, featuring original series, network TV shows, classic sitcoms, and feature films.

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AMC Premiere is an ad-supported VOD platform streaming current seasons of series from AMC, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV, including “Killing Eve,” “Better Call Saul,” and “The Walking Dead,” with extras, including bonus footage, sneak peeks of future episodes and behind-the-scenes features.

IFC Films Unlimited is a streaming channel featuring a collection of theatrically-released and award-winning indie titles from IFC Films.

“Much like our linear channels, our ad-free services provide passionate audiences with exceptional content and new ways to innovate with valued distribution partners like Dish as our businesses evolve together,” Josh Reader, president of distribution and development for AMC Networks, said in a statement.

 

Charlie Ergen: Dish Network, DirecTV Merger ‘Probably Inevitable’

With Dish Network and DirecTV losing nearly 4 million combined linear TV subscribers in 2019, it seems just a matter of time before the two satellite TV operators combine operations.

That’s the sentiment coming from Dish CEO Charlie Ergen who is aggressively transitioning his company into a wireless telecommunications provider featuring a nationwide 5G network.

Speaking on the Feb. 19 fiscal call, Ergen said is “probably inevitable” Dish and DirecTV would merge due to ongoing consumer migration away from linear television.

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“Growth in TV is not coming from linear satellite TV providers,” Ergen said.

Indeed, it’s not. DirecTV and AT&T U-verse lost 945,000 subs in the fourth quarter, while Dish lost 194,000, which was an improvement from 338,000 subs lost in the fourth quarter 2018.

Ergen said industry growth is being driven by “huge programmers and trillion-dollar companies” putting immense resources into streaming video. The executive contends over-the-top video has become so pervasive that regulatory issues regarding a possible merger between Dish and DirecTV would be minimal.

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“Obviously there still could be regulatory issues there. And we’ll have to see how that all develops, but [a merger] to me seems, and maybe each company only has two subscribers when you put them together, but eventually those two are probably going to, that’s going to make some sense,” Ergen said. “Because you can’t swim upstream against a real tide of big OTT players.”

While AT&T has 3 million fewer pay-TV subs since acquiring DirecTV in 2015, COO John Stankey contends the pay-TV operator — via high-speed Internet service — is integral to the successful launch of HBO Max.

Stankey has suggested DirecTV suffers competitively by not being able to bundle high-speed Internet to consumers as Comcast does.

“Where we’ve built better broadband, the [pay-TV] business is performing just fine,” he said late last year.

 

Sling TV Lost 94,000 Subs in Q4

Dish Network Feb. 19 disclosed that its online TV platform — Sling TV — lost 94,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2019. That compared to a gain of 47,000 subs in the previous-year period. It was the online TV platform’s first subscriber loss ever.

Sling TV, which ushered in the standalone online pay-TV market in 2015, ended the fiscal period with 2.59 million subs, up from 2.42 million subs a year ago. At the same time, online TV continues to stagnate as an antidote to subscription video-on-demand and ad-supported VOD.

High-profile YouTube TV just topped 2 million subs, while Disney-owned Hulu with Live TV recently surpassed Sling with 2.7 million subs. Sony’s PlayStation Vue shuttered with reportedly about 500,000 subs.

Meanwhile, Dish’s legacy satellite TV operations finished the year with almost 9.4 million subs — down more than 500,000 subs from the end of 2018. For the quarter, Dish lost a combined 194,000 subs when combined with Sling. That was a significant improvement from the 334,000 combined subs lost in the previous-year quarter.

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Regardless, 2020 finds Dish focusing on a new business: a nationwide 5G wireless network. As part of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, Dish established an agreement with the Department of Justice mandating it would provide nationwide 5G wireless coverage from 20% to 70% of the country’s population based on each of four spectrum bands.

Since 2008, Dish says it has invested more than $11 billion acquiring wireless spectrum licenses and related assets. These licenses are subject to certain interim and final build-out requirements, as well as renewal requirements with the federal government.

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Judge Approves $26 Billion Sprint, T-Mobile Merger

A U.S. District Court Judge Feb. 11 approved the $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint — paving the way for an empowered telecommunications partnership that includes Dish Network and is aimed at competing against AT&T and Verizon.

The deal, which was approved by the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, still requires a formal greenlight from the California Public Utilities Commission.

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U.S. Judge Victor Marrero, in his ruling, denied claims by several State Attorney Generals that the merger of the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless carriers would stifle competition and raise consumer rates, among other issues.

In addition, the Marrero dismissed concerns Dish Network wouldn’t be able to enter the market successfully as a wireless carrier. As part of the Sprint, T-Mobile deal, Dish agreed to acquire Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and other prepaid phone businesses for $5 billion.

Dish, which operates a satellite TV distribution business, has been looking to diversify its business, including launching online TV platform Sling TV.

“The resulting stalemate leaves the court lacking sufficiently impartial and objective ground on which to rely in basing a sound forecast of the likely competitive effects of a merger,” Marrero wrote in support of the deal.

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As part of the transaction, Sprint and T-Mobile said they would deploy a 5G nationwide network within three years of closing the deal.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has opposed the merger, said the deal thwarts consumer rights and fair pricing.

“We’ll stand on the side of competition over megamergers, every time,” Becerra said. “And our coalition is prepared to fight as long as necessary to protect innovation and competitive costs.”