LAS VEGAS—In the age of the side hustle, even publicly traded corporations have to pick up a few odd jobs and seemingly incongruous product lines to make ends meet.
That was my thought Monday as Dish Network Senior VP of Product Development Paddy Rao walked me through a quick demo of the new SlingStudio in an NAB show-floor booth.
Rao made a pretty good case for the $999 product, which in the Facebook Live era, will allow churches, community centers, youth sports leagues and other event organizers to choreograph and execute professional-grade, multicamera shoots at a fraction of the traditional cost.
“They’d need to rent a production van to do some of this stuff,” Rao noted.
Sling Studio comes with a modem-sized box that creates a local Wi-Fi network. It connects wirelessly with HD-camera-equipped smartphones. HDMI-enabled DSLR and video cameras can be cabled in, but also wirelessly connected via a $349 adapter.
In fact, the whole system can be wireless, with a $149 battery available for the hub. SlingStudio is controlled by a simple iPad app, and files can be ported directly into Adobe Premiere for editing.
As someone who is himself looking to ramp up video production of PONY youth baseball games beyond just having a camera behind the catcher, I can definitely see the niche market Dish sees. But as I struggled to filter the vague stench of 40-year-old cigarette smoke, stuck to my nostrils after a rough night in my dingy, Rat Pack-era hotel room, I wondered, “What’s a pay-TV company doing peddling this thing?”
Sure, Dish just folded in the Sling Media unit into its corporate holdings in an asset exchange a few months ago with sibling EchoStar Communications. And with the groundbreaking Slingbox finally giving way to obsolescence, the Sling Media guys had to be working on something.
“We have more than 10 years of experience working with over-the-top video,” Rao explained.
But it’s like the front desk clerk at Harrah’s offering me up a friendly smile—I just don’t expect to see production suites originating from satellite TV companies.
I was equally surprised when I heard last month that Dish has deployed its techs to handle washing-machine repairs for Samsung. And it also felt incongruous last year when I found out Dish had created a smartphone repair sideline business for its techs.
I mean, two years ago in Vegas, Dish was still conducting big, flashy CES presentations full of Hopper upgrades. Now it's doing one-on-ones focused on niche IP video products.
Sure, all of these businesses are probably accretive. I mean, when you lose 1.037 million customers in a year, as Dish did in 2016, you’re likely going to have a few technicians sitting around idle.
I’m not going to go as far as imply that Charlie Ergen and his company are desperate. I’m just saying the optics are confusing. I think it is fair to say the company is in transition—Top management has conceded that the linear satellite TV business has limitations, and they’re investing heavily into their Sling TV virtual MVPD platform.
Meanwhile, after plunging another $6.2 billion into the FCC’s recently completed spectrum auction, Dish is undeniably still interested in a wireless play. But after several years of speculation, even leading investment analysts still don’t know what that move is.