CTAM Live: Sling Fires Up Internet TV Play

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Sling Media, which built its business bringing TV content to the Web, now has ambitions of becoming the go-to place to find professionally produced video content online.

The company is gearing up its new video-destination site—Sling.com—for a public launch on Nov. 24. The site will feature 620 TV and Web shows, across 90 channels, supplied by a laundry list of partners including Hulu, Comcast Networks, Discovery Communications, CBS and A&E Television Networks.

“First and foremost, this is to open up our business beyond Slingbox,” said Jason Hirschhorn, president of the Sling Media Entertainment Group.

Sling.com, though, also includes a Web-based video player to let Slingbox customers access their cable or satellite lineups as well as their DVR recordings from a browser. When Slingbox users search for programming, the site will pull up any episodes of the show available on Sling.com.

Ultimately Sling sees integrating TV and Web video viewing, so that any content could be viewed on TV, a PC or mobile device, regardless of source.

“Right now, video experiences are disparate,” Hirschhorn said. “Your viewing choices aren’t merged.”

Sling.com is prepped for liftoff, however, the company’s much-hyped Clip + Sling feature—which will let users of its Slingbox devices share short snippets of TV shows through the Web site—is still not ready for primetime.

Hirschhorn, formerly MTV Networks’ chief digital officer, said Sling is building additional security features into Clip + Sling that will prevent users from clipping shows that aren’t licensed for the service.

Originally, Sling was planning to allow users to copy any shows on TV and not place ads against that content. But networks pushed back against this YouTube-style approach to video sharing. “Stealing isn’t a business strategy,” said Hirschhorn.

He added that securing rights for online distribution is still a very fragmented process, noting, “No one was going to give us access to the entire channel anyway, because they don’t own the [Internet] rights to everything.”

Clip + Sling, now slated to launch in early 2009, will pop up an icon to let Slingbox users know when they’re watching a program licensed for the service.

Sling originally announced the Clip + Sling concept in January 2007. Hirschhorn didn’t disclose how many TV networks have signed deals with Sling for the service, but he noted that all its agreements to date allow users to create clips longer than 2 minutes in length.

Sling was acquired a year ago by EchoStar, which sells digital set-top boxes and operates a fleet of satellites. The Sling technology is being integrated into those set-tops but, according to Hirschhorn, Sling Media isn’t in any way beholden to Dish Network, which EchoStar has since spun off as a separate entity.

“We’d license SlingPlayer to Time Warner Cable in about 7 seconds,” he said. “And that would be the 7 seconds it took me to answer the phone.”

With Sling.com, Hirschhorn (pictured) acknowledged that the biggest competition will be Hulu—which is also one of his biggest content partners.

“You’ll see tit-for-tat enhancements in usability” between Sling.com and Hulu, Hirschhorn said. Other competitors he cites include two well-funded startups, Veoh Networks and Joost.

“It’s going to be a race for usability, social networking and multiplatform access to content,” he said. “The future of television viewing is going to be about what your social network is watching.”

Sling.com provides an array of basic social-networking features, allowing members to “subscribe” to TV shows, comment and rate videos, and keep track of their friends’ favorite shows. Down the road, Hirschhorn said, the site plans to link directly into sites like Facebook.

The current list of Sling.com content partners includes: CBS, Sony Pictures, Hulu (the joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp.), Warner Bros, PBS, MGM, Comcast Networks (including E!, G4, Golf Channel and Style), Discovery, A&E, Biography, History Channel, Lifetime, Bloomberg, Ovation, Starz Entertainment, Marvel, TV One, TVG, TV Guide, CollegeHumor, Playboy, the NHL, Arena Football League and the PAC-10 conference.

In addition, the site hosts content from magazine publishers including Hachette Filipacchi Media, news organizations including Reuters and the Associated Press, and Web publishers including 60Frames and ComedyTime.

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