By streaming ESPN, Dish just dashed cable’s last leverage

Photo credit: Digital Trends/ Ryan Waniata
On Memorial Day 2010, I did the unthinkable for someone who makes his living in TV – I cancelled my cable subscription. I was part of the earliest wave of cord cutters, wanting to see just how long I could last without paying $100 a month to Time Warner Cable.

I made it two months.

Despite getting Hulu, Netflix, and the occasional purchase on iTunes, I really missed the option to watch some shows live, the night they aired. I missed having CNN around as background noise. Most notably, I missed live sports.

It’s the proverbial game-changer.

Had Dish’s just-unveiled “Sling TV” service been around the summer of 2010, my experiment would’ve been much more successful. For $20 a month, Sling TV offers CNN, TNT, TBS, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Travel Channel, and a new channel from The Maker Studios YouTube empire. Oh, and you get little upstart network called ESPN (not to mention ESPN 2). Sling TV subscribers will be able to access live feeds of those channels from just about any mobile device or computer, not to mention several smart-TV peripherals. (Note: Apple TV isn’t natively supported, but Airplay-mirroring from any iDevice should still work.)

Sling TV is more than a channel changer. It’s the proverbial game-changer. It was cute when CBS announced a stand-alone streaming service. It was interesting when HBO announced that HBO Go would one day be decoupled from cable. But Sling TV is different. For a certain segment of the population, this is the day they’ve been waiting for to cut the cord for good.

Photo credit: Digital Trends/ Ryan Waniata

Unfortunately, I’m no longer part of that population. Dish says it is openly targeting 18-to-35 year olds, but its actual target is even narrower than that. A look at the service’s limitations gives you a better picture of what they’re really after.

Subscriptions only allow for a single stream at a time, so multi-person households beware. Save for ABC Family, female-skewing networks (think Bravo, Lifetime, We, E!, etc.) are noticeably absent. And DVR-ing is going to be hit or miss for a while, as it’ll be up to individuals shows to decide how long they want their content available — if at all — after airing. So the ideal Sling TV user is a single young male who lives on his own and doesn’t fret when he misses a program (or mind paying a little extra for complimentary services to fill in the gaps).

For a certain segment of the population, this is the day they’ve been waiting for to cut the cord for good.

Like I said, that’s not me, and it might not be you either, but that’s still a large group of people. But just because it’s not targeted at you, that doesn’t mean you can’t still appreciate the development. Frequent travelers, for example, should cheer since the channels go wherever you go. And single parents, possibly fresh off a divorce, should like that it exists. For them, the $5 Kids add-on bundle (including more kid-friendly channels) could be a must-have. And then there are the TV super-users, the people who currently subscribe to multiple streaming services, in addition to cable or satellite, simply for the convenience of them. Unlike Sony’s streaming cable alternative, which costs almost as much as traditional cable, Sling TV is inexpensive enough to justify as a complimentary service, even if you don’t intend to cut the cord.

2014 saw a lot of announcements that could “potentially” change the TV landscape. Dish’s announcement yesterday doesn’t need the “potential” qualifier. For many people, it’ll be a real service with a real impact on their lives. That’s why I’m excited about it, even though I don’t plan to subscribe.

We’re only one week into 2015, and we may have already seen the development of the year.

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