Arris Pact With Sling Is No Mere Fling

SCORES EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION, LICENSING DEAL
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The business relationship between Arris and Sling Media took a tighter turn last week when the two companies announced a new pact that makes Arris the exclusive source of Sling Media’s video place-shifting technologies in gateways and standalone devices for cable operators and telcos.

Taking it a step further, Arris also now has the ability to license Sling technology to third-party manufacturers.

The new pact comes just weeks after Arris and Sling Media forged a simpler integration deal that will match up an Arris video gateway with a new standalone Sling-optimized streaming box.

MUTUAL NEEDS

Both sides clearly needed the other. Sling Media, which remains connected to cable rival Charlie Ergen through its parent company, EchoStar Corp., has had trouble penetrating the U.S. cable market. In fact, EchoStar scuttled its plans to sell set-tops to U.S. cable operators last April. Sling’s pathway to the domestic cable market should be smoother now with Arris, which, following its acquisition of Motorola Home, is a major supplier to both MSOs and telcos and counts Comcast as its largest customer.

The deal is a “match made in heaven to get us growth in that cable and telco IP space,” Michael Hawkey, vice president and general manager of Sling Media, said, calling Arris the “premier, predominant player for the cable and telco market around the globe for equipment to back-end services.”

Adding Sling to the portfolio also fills an important gap for Arris — out-of-home streaming capabilities, a feature Arris needed to add amid competition from TiVo, which added out-of-home streaming with the launch of its new line of “Roamio” DVRs.

Arris, in tandem with Comcast, developed Televation (rebranded by Comcast as AnyPlay), a standalone transcoding device with a built in CableCard slot that streamed live TV to tablets, PCs and smartphones as long as they were within reach of the subscriber’s home network.

Arris could have developed the out-of-home piece on its own, but Sling Media’s experience, knowhow and underlying place-shifting technology will speed up those developments dramatically, Mark Depietro, vice president of business development at Arris (and a former Motorola Home executive), said.

“The problem in the home is much simpler. They have some very special sauce there,” he added, referring to Sling Media’s out-of-home streaming technology.

OUT-OF-HOME ADVANTAGE

Arris and Sling Media also realize pay-TV operators might not have distribution rights with programmers that allow out-of-home streaming in every instance.

To handle this potential variability, Sling Media has developed tools that allow “operators to enable or disable place-shifting capabilities on a channel-by-channel basis,” Hawkey said.

Looking ahead, the matching of the Media Streamer 4000 with Arris’s MG5000 media gateway will be ready to launch in early 2014, to be followed by the deeper video gateway integrations and the multivendor licensing components.

Arris was noncommittal regarding plans to use Sling’s technology in gateways that support the Reference Design Kit, a pre-integrated software bundle for IP-connected set-tops that is being managed by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Depietro said Arris and Sling Media are still fleshing out their product roadmap, but acknowledged that the RDK is “one of the important stacks for us.”

TAKEAWAY

In a new deal between the two companies, Arris will be the exclusive source of Sling’s video place-shifting tech for cable operators and telcos.

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