Does the world need another broadband video aggregation site for premium quality video content?
The answer to that question will start to come early next week when Sling.com, the latest entrant in this already crowded space, officially launches. Recently Jason Hirschhorn, president of Sling Media's entertainment group and Brian Jaquet, Sling's Director of Public Relations came through Boston and caught me up on their plans to launch commercially on Nov. 24th.
Many of you know that Sling is the maker of the Slingbox, which connects to your TV or DVR, allowing you to remotely watch programs on your computer. It's a very clever product, though I have to admit its use case has always been a little confounding to me. Nonetheless, just over a year ago, Sling was acquired by EchoStar in a $380 million deal. Shortly thereafter, EchoStar split itself into two parts, Dish Network, the satellite-delivered programming company, and EchoStar Corporation, which includes Sling and other technology-based businesses.
Sling.com, developed by Jason's entertainment group, is the first Sling offering not tethered to any of its devices and therefore open to all users. Acknowledging that Hulu has set a high bar on user experience, Jason explained that Sling.com is attempting to go one step further on usability, and will also differentiate itself with updated social networking capabilities and highly focused editorial content.
In particular, Sling.com offers a slew of Facebook-like features that allow users to subscribe to and favorite programs and networks, with users in turn able to follow these activities. As Jason aptly put it, the goal is to "digitize the water cooler conversation." The whole experience is geared toward engaging the user at a far deeper level than we're accustomed to in passive linear viewing, or even typical at other aggregators' sites.
The real differentiator for Sling long-term though is the integration of Sling.com with the remote viewing offered by Slingbox. Enabled by a new web-based player (instead of the prior downloadable client), users are able to seamlessly browse back and forth between watching live TV and cataloged programs, as shown below.
Taking this one step further, Sling's goal is to get its remote viewing technology embedded in others' set-top boxes as well. So for example, a Comcast STB with Sling inside would allow you to have live TV integrated into your Sling.com, without having to go buy another box.
That's an enticing prospect, but making it happen will be no small feat; the STB giants like Motorola and SA (now part of Cisco) will get on board only when their biggest customers - America's cable operators - ask for it. The prospect of these cable executives wanting to incorporate any technology controlled by Charlie Ergen, Echo's founder/CEO and the cable industry's arch-enemy, stretches my mind. However, stranger deals have been done, so who knows. In the meantime, there are a whole lot of other non-cable homes globally Sling can address first.
But much of that is down the road anyway. For now, Sling.com is going to compete head on with Hulu (which by my count supplies virtually the entire current movie catalog at Sling.com, in turn begging the question of how many different ways one relatively small ad revenue stream can get carved up?), Fancast, the portal sites, YouTube and so on. Jason readily admits that these sites will not compete on content exclusivity; ultimately they'll all have access to everything that's available.
So in this incredibly crowded space, is there room for a newcomer? On the surface, it's tempting to say "no." But history teaches us that "better mousetraps" can elbow their way into even the most crowded spaces. Remember how many search engines already existed when Google burst onto the scene? On a totally different level, I can relate to this challenge myself. A year ago I wondered whether there was room for a new broadband video-centric blog when so many others already existed; now here we are.
The reality is that newcomers succeed because they don't accept the status quo as final. Rather, they find smart ways of delivering new and better value to customers who didn't necessarily even know what they wanted, but when they got it, were delighted. That's Sling.com's challenge. Whether it can meet it remains to be seen. But in this crummy economy, their deep-pocketed backing certainly gives them a leg up on any VC-funded competitors when it comes to long-term staying power.
What do you think? Post a comment now!