ESPN and more for $20 a month

Posted at 12:26 PM, Jan 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-06 12:26:38-05

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Is the future of cable a “personal subscription service” with a small bundle of television and online video channels delivered to phones, tablets and Internet-connected TV sets?

Well, it’s one potential future, as portrayed by the Dish Network in a first-of-its-kind “virtual cable” announcement on Monday.

Dish, a pioneer in satellite TV, is preparing to launch Sling TV, a bundle of channels — including ESPN and CNN — that will be delivered via the Internet to subscribers. Sling’s “core package” will cost just $20 per month, far less than most cable packages, mainly because it includes a small number of channels.

For the small but growing number of cord-cutters in the United States, Sling TV might be a reason to reconnect — particularly because it’s a low-cost way to receive ESPN. It may also pave the way for changes to the cable bundles that about 100 million households currently pay for.

But for the time being, the service is experimental; Dish CEO Joseph Clayton calls it “a viable alternative for live television to the millennial audience.”

Dish announced the new offering during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company declined to say when exactly it’ll launch, other than “first quarter of 2015.”

Sling TV is groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. One, it’s entirely in the cloud; it requires no set-top-box or satellite dish (and annoying wait for the cable guy). It is bring-your-own-broadband.

Two, it is a per-person subscription, like Spotify, not a per-household subscription like traditional cable, satellite and broadband.

Three, it defies the television industry norm of bundling all of a company’s channels together. For example, and probably most importantly for potential subscribers, Sling TV will include ESPN and ESPN2, but not ESPN’s ancillary channels.

ESPN’s parent, The Walt Disney Company, struck an Internet distribution deal with Dish last spring.

Sling TV — which has no relation to another product owned by Dish, the Slingbox — will also carry ten other channels at launch: Disney’s ABC Family and Disney Channel; Scripps Networks’ Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel; and Time Warner’s TNT, TBS, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and CNN.

(Time Warner is the parent of this web site.)

The typical channel bundle sold by Dish and its competitors includes hundreds of channels. Through Sling TV, additional channels will be available via $5 per month “add-on packs.” One of the packs will include CNN’s sibling HLN, Bloomberg TV, Cooking Channel, and DIY.

Absent from Monday’s announcement are any channels owned by Viacom, like MTV; 21st Century Fox, like FX; Comcast, like Bravo; and any broadcast networks, like CBS and NBC.

But the bundle will include a selection of web series from Maker Studios, the online video maker that Disney acquired last year.

Sling TV said it expected to “expand its core package, video-on-demand content, online video and add-on packs throughout 2015.”

Dish’s introduction of Sling will be closely watched within the media industry, since several forms of “virtual cable” are being explored by various companies.

Making the cable bundle more convenient and appealing to young people — one of Dish’s main aims — may help the mature industry win new subscribers, but it may also hurt smaller cable channels that currently survive on the backs of bigger siblings.

In a press release, Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch depicted the service as a natural step in the Netflixification of television.

“Live television, including ESPN, for $20 per month with no commitment or contract, is a game changer,” he asserted.

“The arrival of Sling TV lets consumers, who’ve embraced services like Netflix and Hulu, take more control of their video entertainment experience.”