Sling TV Aims to Expand Multi-Stream Tier

Sling TV’s new Fox-anchored multi-stream tier is still in the beta phase but the OTT-TV service is already looking to expand the offering. 

“We expect, through the beta phase of it, we may add some more channels, and probably keep it in beta maybe up to a couple of months,” Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV, said Wednesday on Dish Network’s Q1 earnings call.

Some of those plans came to light Thursday amid a new multi-year carriage deal between Viacom and Dish that allows for “select” live channels and VOD content from Viacom to join Sling TV’s single- and multi-stream offerings. Viacom nets including Comedy Central, BET, Spike, MTV, Nick Jr. and “many other” will be offered via Sling TV in the “coming months.”

Sling TV launched the multi-stream trial earlier this month. The $20 per month service is anchored by channels from the Fox Networks stable, including the Fox broadcast network (in owned-and-operated station markets), along with networks such as AMC, A&E, and YES Network, among others.

At the time, Disney and ESPN, which do offer channels on Sling’s single-stream offering, said it’s in active talks about the multi-stream trial. Sling TV currently offers ABC in the O&O markets via an add-on tier that sells for $5 per month and also features Univision and UniMás.

“We’re desirous of putting ESPN in multi-stream, which will drive the price of multi-stream up,” Dish chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen said, noting during the call that customer feedback shows that most of them want a multi-stream product. “They [Disney/ABC] are our first OTT partner so they get preferential treatment.”

“We would welcome ESPN and Disney into the multi-stream product,” Lynch added.

Dish no longer breaks out Sling TV subs (a report from The Wall Street  Journal in February put it at more than 600,000) but the company did shed some light on churn rates for the contract-free OTT service that also lets people in to try it out for free.

“The customer lifecycle for Sling is very different from satellite,” Lynch said, referencing the typical longer-term contract for the Dish product. “The switch from free trial to pay, if you want to think about it as churn, is the highest churn that you'll have [with Sling TV].”

But churn rates go down the longer that Sling TV subs stay with it. “Once customers have been with you six or seven months the churn rate is quite a bit lower overall,” he said.

He said Sling TV is also seeing a “pretty decent percentage” of customers leave and come back a few months later as a paid subscriber. “To us, the more people we get to try the service the better because they either roll to pay, which most of them do after the free trial, or we find that a good percent come back a few months later as a paid subscriber.”

Ergen was also asked to respond to the competitive impact posed by AT&T and its plan to launch a set of DirecTV-branded OTT services in Q4.

He said AT&T’s decision to go with OTT products is “logical,” hopeful that they will advance the industry.

“And I think that Dish thought about it five years before they did. I think we're well-positioned to compete against whatever it is they come up with,” Ergen said. “But I think AT&T is well-positioned. I think their acquisition of DirecTV gives them scale in video and gives them the ability to do some things with video that other people in the wireless industry can't do.”

Ergen also was asked if he believes OTT competition will force cable operators to go out-of-footprint with their own OTT products.

“That might be a logical move for them. That's not something that the cable industry has chosen to do in the past but perhaps they would this time,” he said.