SlingModem Comes to Market

Through its EchoStar Technologies and Sling Media subsidiaries, EchoStar developed a new Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification cable-modem product that incorporates the place-shifting capabilities of Sling’s popular Slingbox, which allows television content to be transmitted from a consumer’s TV set to any location with an Internet connection.

The new SlingModem, aimed squarely at cable operators, will be officially introduced at The Cable Show ’08 in New Orleans next week.

The new SlingModem complies with Cable Television Laboratories’ DOSCIS 2.0 specification and can be used like a standard high-speed-data modem to connect to the Internet.

But it also includes Sling Media’s proprietary video-encoding technology, which takes conventional TV programming and makes it suitable for streaming over the Internet to PCs and Internet-capable mobile devices that are loaded with Sling’s software client and features video and audio inputs for connecting to a cable subscriber’s set-top or TV.

Pricing for the new device was not disclosed, and EchoStar hasn’t announced any cable customers for it yet, although it is actively shopping it to both U.S. and international operators.

“We’re not announcing a partner,” Sling Media spokesman Brian Jaquet said. “There are a lot of options on how to make it available to customers -- either a lease model or a straight-out purchase like a Slingbox. But that’s purely up to the MSO [multiple-system operator].”

The new SlingModem is the second new product category introduced this year by EchoStar, the publicly traded corporation that was spun off from satellite operator Dish Network in January and that makes set-top boxes, including digital-video-recorder set-tops for Dish, and owns and manages satellite capacity.

It also owns Sling Media, which the former EchoStar Communications acquired in September 2007 for $380 million. At the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show in January, EchoStar unveiled a $39.99 digital-to-analog converter box, sold under both the Sling and EchoStar brands, aimed at analog over-the-air TV viewers who need converter boxes to keep watching TV after high-powered analog signals are shut off next February as part of the digital-TV transition.

At CES, both EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen and Sling CEO Blake Krikorian said more Sling-branded products were soon to come, and Krikorian hinted that a cable modem was a near-term possibility.

“The introduction of the SlingModem demonstrates our operator-agnostic philosophy, as well as our dedication to the cable industry,” Krikorian said in a statement.

Like the Slingbox, the SlingModem will still require broadband users to have a network router to facilitate Web streaming. But it eliminates the need for a separate Slingbox device to sit between the router and the set-top or TV, thus reducing clutter in a home network and making setup easier.

In fact, if a SlingModem user wants to watch only analog-TV channels, it eliminates the need for a TV or set-top itself -- the SlingModem has an onboard analog tuner that allows it to receive channels on the analog cable tier (channels 2-70 or 80 in most systems) and then process them for Internet streaming.

Since Slingbox users tend to be TV aficionados, Jacquet doesn’t expect many SlingModem customers to use the device in that fashion. Instead, since many cable modems are located in the same room as TV sets, he expects most SlingModem customers who choose to take advantage of the device’s place-shifting capabilities to hook them up to a digital set-top to enable viewing of digital, on-demand and DVR content through the Internet.

The real opportunity for SlingMedia and EchoStar is to bring Sling’s place-shifting technology to a much broader audience than the retail Slingbox, which sells for $129.99 in its most basic configuration, and to break into the cable market with an innovative, feature-rich new product. EchoStar said it is also working on a variety of other cable products and services that will be introduced later this year.

“We are firmly committed to becoming the vendor of choice in the cable industry, leveraging decades of systems and manufacturing excellence,” said Mark Jackson, president of EchoStar Technologies, in a statement. “We are excited to announce our first cable-ready product at the annual Cable Show, where we can meet face-to-face with industry veterans looking for innovative solutions that will reduce churn and increase average revenue per user.”