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Sling TV tops 2 million subscribers, could raise subscription price

Sling TV, the over-the-top television service launched three years ago by satellite broadcaster Dish Network, announced on Tuesday it had more than two million paying subscribers.

The number puts Sling in the position as the largest live TV streaming service in the country, though its subscription numbers still lag way behind those of on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and HBO Now. And those numbers were not enough for Dish to offset a decline in its legacy satellite broadcast service.

Sling, which debuted in 2015, was the first live streaming service to offer channels like ESPN and CNN with just an Internet connection. It has managed to keep its $20-a-month price point for new and existing subscribers, though new channels added to the service are usually offered to customers in add-on packages.

On Tuesday, Sling announced it had 2.3 million subscribers, although it wasn’t clear how many of those customers were paying for the service or merely taking advantage of the company’s free trial access. By comparison, Sling’s closest competitor, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, has just 1.46 million subscribers.

Sling’s basic package offers access to Disney and Turner channels like ESPN and CNN, but not channels from NBC or Fox. An alternative basic package gives customers access to the missing NBC and Fox channels, but not ESPN. A combined package at $40 a month gives customers access to all of the basic channels, but nothing else. Additional packages of sports, news and lifestyle content can be added on to a subscription for $5, and premium channels cost an extra $8 (Showtime) to $15 (HBO) a month.

DirecTV Now, on the other hand, offers Disney (ESPN, ABC), Turner (CNN), Fox, NBC, CBS and other local and cable channels for a flat $35. HBO costs an extra $5 a month. Three more packages offer anywhere from 80 to 120 channels for between $60 and $70 a month. Other Sling competitors, like Hulu and YouTube TV, offer similar packages of channels for $40 a month and come with cloud DVR storage for recording TV shows and live broadcasts (YouTube debuted last year for $35, but increased its monthly cost by $5 this April after signing a distribution deal with Turner).

Sling has managed to stay cheaper than its competitors — only the fledgling Philo TV costs less, but it doesn’t include live sports or access to Disney, Fox or NBC programming — and its biggest draw is arguably its access to ESPN for $20 a month. But the times might be catching up to Sling: The Denver Post published an article this week suggesting Dish may have to raise the price of Sling TV sometime soon.

The Post reported that customers are “flocking” to Sling TV, but not fast enough to offset pay TV losses for parent company Dish Network. The company missed quarterly estimates due to a decline in customers at the legacy satellite business. Although Sling’s customer base increased over the last quarter, it wasn’t enough to bring in much-needed revenue for the company.

Analysts have suggested part of Dish’s woes might have something to do with the company cannibalizing its primary business with Sling. Cheaper options offered by Sling are attracting so-called “cord cutters,” making it difficult for Dish to justify raising prices on its satellite service.

Dish Network Chief Executive Officer Charlie Ergen reassured investors the company was “committed” to repaying its $16 billion in debt. An analyst told Thomson Reuters that it’s “usually not a good day for equity holders” when a company has to make such a commitment.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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