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Sling CEO Makes Mobile Pitch to Broadcasters

Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian will hit the NAB stage Monday to both detail the latest developments for his company’s Slingbox, which takes programming delivered to a standard TV or cable box and streams it over the Internet, and promote the “place-shifting” product’s new mobile capabilities as a unique opportunity for local stations.

Krikorian’s appearance as keynote speaker for the NAB Super-Session, “Portable! Digital Media Content Anywhere, Anytime” is significant, as last year heading into NAB some local broadcasters and program networks were suggesting that the Slingbox’s ability to stream programming over the Internet to distant markets might break copyright law. Those complaints have faded, and Sling Media has since hired a former MTV Networks executive, Jason Hirschhorn, to actively pursue content partnerships with programmers while the company continues to expand its product’s technical capabilities.

As a sign of that progress, Sling made a high-profile appearance onstage at the Consumer Electronics Show last January when CBS chief Les Moonves announced a content deal with Sling and demonstrated a new video-sharing technology, “Clip + Sling,” during a keynote address. Still, the irony of a headline appearance at NAB 2007 isn’t lost on Krikorian, who compares early opposition to Slingbox by some established media players to the initial battle over the VCR.

“Hopefully, I won’t have things thrown at me on stage---there will be a lot of broadcasters and content owners there,” Krikorian jokes.

Sling Media has been steadily rolling out more capabilities and features to Slingbox, and is launching a second-generation box this year. Slingbox is now supported by the Macintosh operating platform as well as Microsoft’s Windows, and the SlingMobile application, which allows a consumer with an Internet-enabled mobile phone to watch what’s on their TV at home, is supported by several mobile handset makers and software platforms.

“We’ve greatly increased the number of platforms we support,” says Krikorian. “We have the ability to ‘Sling’ your living room content to any number of devices.”

Sling is also developing a new product, SlingCatcher, which is designed to make watching Internet video on the big screen in the living room an easier proposition for consumers. That should become available this summer, at a price of $200 or less. Like Apple’s new Apple TV product, it will use a home network to wireless transmit Internet video from a PC or a laptop to the big screen.

“There is interesting content available only on the PC, and only on the Internet,” says Krikorian. “We have the high-level notion of freeing up that experience to include the living room TV. Intuitively, it makes sense. But if you look at the approaches people are taking, they are falling under the same problem: no one’s been able to give you the full--blown Internet experience on the TV.”

What’s unique about SlingCatcher, says Krikorian, is that Sling has worked hard to develop software that will convert the various online video formats for big-screen display.It has created a software application called “SlingProjector” that will reside on a consumer’s PC, and through Wi-Fi networking, connect seamlessly to the SlingCatcher and allow transcoded content to be readily displayed on a living-room set.

“Basically, anything that you can watch or consume on a laptop or PC, you can have wirelessly projected onto a TV set,” says Krikorian.

Sling is planning to launch its “Clip + Sling” application mid-year, which will allow Sling users to “clip” a piece of video they just watched and “sling” it via the Interent to other Sling users, as well as to standard PCs via email.

“We’ll be dramatically changing the way people can socialize around television,” says Krikorian.

For example, under the aforementioned deal with CBS, Sling Media will distribute free, ad-supported, full-length as well as clip-based video content from CBS via Sling’s forthcoming video destination and its enhanced SlingPlayer software, which will be launched for both Slingbox and non-Slingbox customers this summer. In addition, Sling Media plans to integrate the same CBS content into additional platforms such as SlingCatcher.

Sling has cut additional content deals for Clip + Sling since CES, says Krikorian, though he won’t name the companies involved. One benefit to content players is the ability to attach advertising to clips that get “slung” between viewers.

“We’re excited with the deals we’re already cutting,” he says. “I’m convinced, from everybody I’ve talked to in the content industry, that this is finally one of the applications and approaches that really is a true win-win-win all the way around. It’s a positive delight to the consumer, and at the same time, provides a clear path and clear way for TV networks to monetize that additional traffic while maintaining and growing their brands.”

Krikorian’s other big message to the NAB audience is that while there is a lot of buzz over new mobile TV services like MediaFLO, Sling’s SlingMobile software allows consumers to watch television on their cellphones today. He appreciates the technical capability of the MediaFLO service, but notes that its programming lineup only presents a “subset” of the content choices available on most people’s television sets. That’s where he thinks SlingMobile comes in, particularly as the technology is supported by cheaper and cheaper mobile phones, such as Motorola’ new $99 Moto Q.

“If mobile TV is to really take off, you can bet that the notion of place-shifting like Slingbox will at least be a major component of it,” says Krikorian.

On a recent shopping trip with his family, Krikorian followed his alma mater UCLA’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament by watching the CBS broadcast from KPIX San Francisco on his smart phone via SlingMobile. He says he ran into two other Nordstrom’s shoppers doing the exact same thing.

The other advantage of SlingMobile is that it delivers local content, while MediaFLO is a national service that is only showing network programming, like other many other new-media plays. As such, Krikorian sees Slingbox and SlingMobile as being of major benefit to local call-letter stations. But he says that because of the scattered nature of the broadcast landscape, forming content partnerships with stations is tough.

“If you stop and think about it, by far, the local broadcasters have the most to gain by embracing Slingbox,” says Krikorian. “If you’re a local broadcaster, you see all these new technologies out there, but all these things are bypassing me. Slingbox is one new technology that plays to their strength, and gives them a play in the multi-platform, multi-location world. In many ways, it could be the thing that saves them. The challenge is that there are so many [stations], and local broadcasting is so fragmented. You’ve got the O&Os, the media conglomerates, and the small independently-owned stations. It’s not a one-stop shop and place to do deals.”