SlingTV could be the tipping point for a cord-cutting stampede

Samantha Bookman, FierceOnlineVideoA recent survey by Parks Associates found that 17 percent of U.S. broadband households are likely to subscribe to HBO's over-the-top video service, once it launches this spring. That's an encouraging number, but not exactly an overwhelming pledge to try OTT services.

Consumers seem to be holding back from shaving or even completely cutting the cable cord, even though there are an increasing number of viewing options beyond the pay-TV realm. And while an a la carte HBO offering will likely attract a lot of interested subscribers hoping to access its programming away from an expensive cable package, another OTT offering will probably be the true catalyst for a dramatic viewer shift to online video.

Enter Dish Network's rushed-to-market, all-OTT service. Sling TV, while an imperfect linear package, is exactly the type of product that providers need to draw in lots and lots and lots of OTT subscribers.

Sling TV for iPhone

Sling TV's interface on an iPhone 4S is a bit crowded.

Its biggest pluses: A slim, largely unobtrusive user interface. A smooth, fast-loading streaming experience on mobile devices and Roku 3. ESPN and ESPN 2. A library of transactional on-demand movies.

But there's still plenty to criticize about this early version of Sling TV. There are no channels from the big three broadcasters (ABC, CBS, and NBC), meaning cord cutters will have to rig up an HD antenna to pull in local broadcast signals. There are just 12 channels in its basic Best of Live TV package (although subscribers can choose from three additional channel bundles for an additional fee). The service works on just one device at a time. And the on-demand movies can't be rented or purchased with one click; users must put the device down, go to their desktop computers, and order what they want to watch from the DishWorld website.

But Sling TV has an important edge. It's clearly striving to be an all-in-one viewing package that mimics the experience of watching cable TV at home. Doing that successfully will draw in users who have been reluctant to cut the cord previously, perhaps due to worries about being able to figure out how to use a variety of different user interfaces from different OTT providers.

Sling TV on demand menu

The on-demand menu instructs users to go to the DishWorld website to purchase or rent available titles.

Sling TV has a lot of promise in that area. And it makes one wonder if its available channels, which tend to skew toward a much older demographic, were selected partly to attract far more than millennials.

Will its limited channel lineup be an issue, as some analysts believe? I'm not so sure. I recently did a quick audit of the cable channels watched in my home. HBO is a popular choice, and so are local news broadcasts. Home and garden programming and factual programs (think, HGTV and the Discovery Channel) are viewed often. A huge block of channels on my current pay-TV provider's lineup get skipped over completely.

Sling TV's available lineup includes channels covering each of these areas, along with a fair amount of kids' programming (Disney, Disney XD and Cartoon Network among them).

If HBO's standalone OTT service proves popular, consumers may flock to it as an add-on service to their existing pay-TV package. As attractive as HBO's programming is, it's not enough to sway cable subscribers.

But if Sling TV takes off, despite missing those major broadcast channels, look for another wild ride in the coming months as consumers--even in age groups that aren't known for taking daring leaps of faith into new technology--switch over to a service that holds the promise of true TV everywhere (thanks to OTT).--Sam

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