Sling TV has only been live for two weeks — but Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen said today that he has big plans for the attention-grabbing $20-a-month video streaming service. It’s “part of a strategy to take content to a more mobile basis and a more wireless basis” — which is the way “the next generation is going to watch television” — he said in a conference call today.
Ergen has been amassing wireless spectrum to help make the satellite company — which he describes as “a mature business” — more relevant in the Internet era. It will include “a heavy dose of video and content.” He sees Sling as “a precursor to do that on a wireless network.”
That’s one reason Dish is concerned about Comcast’s pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Sling TV could survive if it were blocked by either Comcast or TWC. But if a merged company did that, then “Sling TV wouldn’t make it,” General Counsel Stanton Dodge says.
Although the cable companies say that they don’t compete in the local markets that they serve, “they’d be natural competitors” in a world where programming comes from national streaming services, Ergen says. “That goes away in a merger.”
The Dish chief also warned that Sony’s planned PlayStation Vue streaming service could be “disruptive” to pay TV. Unlike Sling — which Dish says targets millennials who don’t subscribe — Sony’s offering “will be a direct replacement for cable, satellite and phone….Sony, because they’re not in the current environment, doesn’t have a big investment in infrastructure.”
That could influence talks with Viacom, which some analysts predict could become contentious. The programmer plans to offer its channels on Sony. Ergen — who recently had noisy run-ins with Turner, CBS, and Fox — noted that networks generally “only have one playbook: ‘You’re paying us X, and we want X plus 10%’….They want double digit increases with double digit decreases in viewership.” When they sell the same programming to streaming services, including Netflix, “that will decrease the viewership from the [pay TV] platform.”
But Ergen says he’s hopeful that he can craft a deal with Viacom without butting heads. “It’s one of our better relationships…As long as we’re treated fairly, I hope we’ll continue on with Viacom as we have for 20 years.”