It is hard to recall but at one time cable television was a radical change in viewing television. When I was very young, rabbit ears on top of our old television set brought television into the living room. There were not many channels to watch back then. There were the three big networks (ABC,CBS & NBC) plus taxpayer supported PBS, and a very small number of independent channels. It was about six or seven channels that you could watch. We said goodbye to the antenna when cable finally arrived and hello to the cable box. It brought clearer signals and unless something was wrong with the cable service, reliable quality. Cable television spurred the growth of cable only channels and of course movie channels.
Cable companies became de facto monopolies in most cities and without competition, the rates began to soar. Changes in technology and how information was delivered changed all that. Not just the obvious one (the Internet) but smaller steps that changed how media was delivered. It began with the humble video cassette recorder. Yes the humble vcr allowed you to record movies off live television but opened up a market for renting and selling movies to customers. There were grumbles from the big movie companies but eventually they all lined up.Then came the compact disc and later the dvd. Cable boxes became a thing of the past with a cable tuner inside a standard television or vcr. Then came the digital video recorder allowing the pausing of live television as well as record shows. The Internet begat streaming and services like Netflix took advantage of it to stream media right into people’s homes. Satellite technology had advanced enough to have small antennas and compete directly with cable companies as well (and offer channels at less cost than cable).
The Internet though is the game changer. With more people wanting to view movies online or streamed to their favorite media device, people began cord cutting. Most downgraded their services, like me, to just local broadcast channels and used services like Netflix or Hulu to fill in the gaps. Suddenly the cable companies had a serious threat. People are fed up with paying bundles for a whole bunch of channels they do not watch. Cable companies have to pay a fee to every cable channel based on subscribers. Some channels have small fees and others like ESPN command high fees that in turn cause rate hikes and spats. This inefficient system means cable channels are being subsidized by every cable subscriber in the country. Which explains why very low rated cable only channels can stay afloat as long as they are picked up by cable systems.
Which brings us to Sling TV. By no means is this the end of the cable companies but it marks a shift in how people are going to get cable channel programming. Sling TV is offering a limited number of packages that have some popular cable channels. The basic package is $20 and comes with ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, ABC Family, CNN, El Rey Network, Maker, and Galavision. AMC is coming soon. Other packages add some extra sports, kids programming, and news. Sling is owned by Dish TV, a satellite television provider. Sling is available on most mobile, computer, and streaming services. I have a Roku box and a computer so I can watch on either one (but not at the same time). The video quality is good but there are caveats. There is limited dvr like abilities. ESPN does not allow you to pause live television but others do. There is limited archive of shows you missed. Schedules shown may not be accurate (I use TVGuide app on my iPhone to see what is upcoming-I just have to remember to add three hours for Eastern time).
Aside from the problems I mentioned, another issue for many is that Sling simply replicates cable tv in a different format. You still get bundled television and not al la carte programming where you create a bundle of channels you want to watch. Thus you are still paying for channels you do not want to watch. Out of the basic bundle only ESPN, Food and Travel are of interest to me. The other channels are of little interest so I am paying again (but with a smaller fee)for channels I do not want or watch. ESPN is the big draw and one reason many will want to try it out. I probably will drop Sling for now but sign back up again when baseball season gets going because some games are only played on ESPN.Then again without that dvr function I would be hard pressed to do that.
Will Sling TV work? The cable companies do not want the competition and channel owners will put restrictions on how their channels are shown (like preventing people from fast forwarding through commercials when viewing the archive). Without the dvr ability, I see a lot of people checking it out then saying meh and moving on. Perhaps Tivo and Sling ought to work together for an app that will allow OTA/limited cable users the ability to record shows. It is a step in the right direction but only just a step.