There’s more or less a consensus that Dish Network’s over-the-top Sling TV offers a lot for the money (its hundreds of thousands of subscribers will attest to as much), but it isn’t exactly the pinnacle of streaming TV experiences. You can’t watch Sling TV on multiple devices at once, for instance, and the service lacks 21st Century Fox-owned channels including Fox Sports. Starting Wednesday, though, Dish is taking steps to rectify those grievances.
A new $20-per-month package lets subscribers watch up to three simultaneous streams at once and features a lineup of Fox content. The latter’s not just a token add either — it comprises on-demand and live programming from FX, regional sports networks, and Fox affiliates in 17 markets. And Sling says it’s working to add additional affiliates over time.
“Since launch, our customers have asked for more channels and multiple streams,” said Sling TV chief executive Roger Lynch in a press release. The new bundle “is the first step in answering their requests.”
“We’re proud to partner with Dish and Sling TV to offer our brands […] as part of Sling TV’s multi-stream service,” Fox Networks Group president and COO Randy Freer said in a statement. “[It] reflects our commitment to providing the consumer with a better and more seamless TV experience.”
The Fox channels join Sling TV’s bevy of existing content providers, among them AMC, HBO, CNN, HGTV, and A&E. But the tier’s missing a notable player: Disney. The new $20-per-month package forgoes the Disney programming featured in Sling TV’s other basic subscriptions, including ESPN and ABC.
That’s a conscious decision. According to The Wall Street Journal, Fox executives had long been reluctant to ink a deal with Dish because it both 1) insisted on low-cost carriage of its networks, and 2) locked some broadcast channels behind premium add-on packages. Dish’s capitulation? Dropping Disney from Fox’s package. If you want both, you’ll have to cough up for two separate bundles — a $40 per month proposition.
Disney, which remains less bullish on a la carte services than a few of its competitors, is partly to blame for the split. It’s so far resisted a simultaneous streaming arrangement with Dish, and reserves a contractual right to terminate its agreement if Sling TV reaches more than 2 million subscribers. In contrast to Fox — which considers its Dish deal “revenue-neutral” because it believes some cable TV subscribers who cut the cord will sign up for a la carte services instead — Disney executives fear such services will cut into the company’s profitable existing contracts.
“We are in active discussions with Dish about their multi-stream Sling TV service but we have yet to reach an agreement,” a spokesperson for ESPN told The Verge. “Our brands and content are best-in-class and would add unparalleled value to this new service.”
Disney’s not the only one. So far, CBS and Comcast’s NBCUniversal, both of which offer streaming services of their own, have yet to cut deals with Dish.
Whether or not a new Disney deal or others come to fruition could prove formative for Sling TV, which faces increasing competition in the a la carte streaming market. Sony’s PlayStation Vue, which includes both Disney and Fox programming in select markets, launched broadly in March. Comcast’s Stream TV, currently available in Boston, includes programming from local affiliates, a dozen networks, and HBO. And Time Warner Cable’s comparable service offers the same, sans HBO.
Sling TV may be the cheapest and most widely available service, for now — its packages start at $20, cheaper than Vue ($30), and nationwide — but it may not be able to maintain those advantages. If it can’t, a more favorable contract with programmers like Disney would go a long way to making Sling TV attractive.
Sling TV’s new bundle is available in beta starting today, and free for the first seven days. You can see if your local Fox affiliate’s offered by using Dish’s search tool.