Dish Network to pull the plug on Slingbox devices

A Slingbox. (Photo: Dish Network/Sling Media, Graphic: The Desk)

Dish Network has discontinued its line of Slingbox hardware and will brick existing devices on the market within the next two years, the company announced on Monday.

For more than a decade, Dish Network’s Sling Media unit has sold the consumer hardware that allows TV viewers to stream broadcast, cable or satellite signals from their home set-top boxes to out-of-home Internet connected devices.

Sling Media was acquired in 2007 by Dish Network’s former parent company Echostar for $380 million. Dish Network continued to assume control over the Sling Media subsidiary after it split from Echostar, which primarily makes satellite communication hardware.

Slingbox devices were popular with sports enthusiasts who wanted to stream in-market games while they were on the road. The devices were also popular with overseas users who sometimes offered to purchase hardware for stateside installation in order to watch local broadcast and cable TV programming in real-time, though the practice typically left users in a legal grey area.

The legal issue came to a head when the Fox Broadcasting Company sued Dish Network over its Slingbox technology and a separate service that skipped ads on Dish’s traditional satellite TV service. A federal court issued a preliminary rule that said the Slingbox technology didn’t violate copyright law, which provoked Dish and Fox to settle out of court on the remaining matters.

Slingbox’s appeal has declined in recent years thanks to the evolution of streaming pay television services. Dish was one of the earliest entrants into that market with its Sling TV service, a $20 a month offering that included popular ESPN sports channels. (The service now starts at $30 a month.) Competing services offered by the Walt Disney Company (Hulu Plus with Live TV), Alphabet (YouTube TV), AT&T and Fubo TV have dramatically reduced the need for legal Slingbox services in most areas of the country, and its popularity has waned internationally as programmers ink distribution deals with foreign broadcasters and streaming services to simulcast global sports over the Internet.

On Monday, Dish said it was finally pulling the plug on Slingbox, immediately discontinuing new sales and planning to sunset servers that allow Slingbox’s technology to work over the next two years.

“We’ve had to make room for new innovative products so that we can continue to serve our customers in the best way possible,” a Dish Network spokesperson wrote in an online message to customers.

The move will not impact streaming service Sling TV, which Dish is expected to continue to sell. Last week, Dish Network said the company had added more than 116,000 paying television subscribers, a growth fueled in large part by its budget streaming service.