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Hey, Cord Cutters: Dish Network Wants You

Rob Pegoraro
·Contributing Editor
Sling TV logo
Sling TV logo

LAS VEGAS — Dish Network introduced a new online streaming service at CES this week. It should be an even bigger deal for most consumers than the 4K ultra-high definition service that will launch in the second quarter of this year.

The new $20-a-month Sling TV will give “cord cutters” an affordable way to watch some of the channels they had to give up when they dropped cable or satellite. Sling TV Customers will finally be able to watch ESPN without having to pay $100 a month for 200 other channels they don’t want.

Sling TV will launch with a few strong networks at first: ESPN and ESPN2, TBS, TNT, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family, and CNN. You’ll be able to pause and rewind live TV, and in some cases replay a show up to three days after it airs. 

Sling TV won’t, however, include content from the big four networks. For them, you’ll need to rely on Hulu viewing afterward, or use an over-the-air antenna to tune into local stations.

Premium add-ons include “Kids Extra” with Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, and Duck TV, and a “News & Info Extra” that adds HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY, and Bloomberg TV. A sports extra package is coming later that will add the other ESPN channels and a few others — but Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch said it would leave out regional sports networks, which cost too much. 

Even without the premium packages, you’ll still pay for channels you don’t want. But in the Sling TV model, there’s much less channel bloat, and the basic rate of $20 with no extra costs is reasonable. 

Who’s it for?
Dish executives kept pitching this service as aimed at 18-to-35 Millennials — Dish CEO Joe Clayton said that focus would hold off any “cannibalization of our core satellite service” — but the cord-cutting population extends well beyond that demographic. It includes me: I had Dish Network from 2004 to 2009 before dropping the service, and something like Sling TV represents about its only chance of regaining my business.

You’ll be able to watch Sling TV in iOS and Android apps or on the Sling site itself, and Sling says it plans to ship apps for Roku boxes and Roku-equipped TVs, the Xbox One, some LG and Samsung smart TVs, Google’s Nexus Player, and Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.

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But what about 4K?
On the 4K front, Dish’s new “4K Joey” box represents the first hardware from a pay-TV provider that will work with any 4K set made in the past year or two — unlike streaming-only 4K services from Comcast and DirecTV that work only with 2014-model Samsung 4K televisions. (DirecTV launched a 4K-compatible satellite in December and plans to use that for a more widely available service later this year.) But you can’t call the 4K Joey a 4K receiver, because it can’t tune in any live broadcasts.

Instead, you connect it to an existing Dish DVR that, in turn, caches 4K movies slowly beamed down from one of Dish’s existing satellites. Once that trickle-down TV system has the movie saved up, the 4K Joey does the computing work needed to play it.

Dish hasn’t announced prices or a ship date more specific than the second quarter (in keeping with the CES tradition of having the two questions most asked and least answered here being “How much? When?”), nor do we know what sort of content is in store.

As with other 4K services, this one really demands a large TV. Unless you want to sit only a few feet from the screen, you’ll need a set 55 inches across or larger. Which is not hard to find at CES.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.