Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch on changing programmers' minds, targeted ads, linear TV's 'rabbit hole'

Roger Lynch

with Roger Lynch, CEO, Sling TV, executive VP of advanced technologies, Dish Network

For years, the major programming conglomerates buried their heads in the sand as they simultaneously enabled the most disruptive company in television's modern era, Netflix, with syndication deals. These monolithic content companies clung to notions of tight control of multiscreen user environments and large programming bundles, even though user taste and behaviors had rapidly shifted to a more mobile, a la carte mindset. Then, within the past 15 months, programmers' mindsets have finally also opened up to the reality of the mobile TV consumer who wants more choice. As executive VP of advanced technologies for Dish Network, Roger Lynch began developing pay TV's first over-the-top service, Sling TV, several years ago, and had a front-row seat to this dramatic change in attitude. Now serving as CEO of Dish's Sling TV unit, FierceCable recently caught up with Lynch:

FierceCable: How hard was it, technologically speaking, for a company steeped in the technology of satellite distribution to become a distributor of IP video? How did Dish assimilate the skill sets?

Roger Lynch: Our company's history is all about delivering video through innovative means. Dish's efforts originally centered on C-band satellites and eventually evolved into DBS. Now, we're adding IP-based delivery to our core competencies so we can provide our customers with the content they love in an easily accessible way.

We understand video distribution extremely well, but adding the skills to deliver it over the Internet and across several different platforms represents hard work. Investment in those skills began four years ago with the acquisition of Move Networks. This moment not only marked our first big step forward with IP-based delivery, but it also eventually led to the launch of DishWorld, which essentially became a test bed for Sling TV.

FierceCable: Speaking broadly away from proprietary technologies and strategies, what are the possibilities for targeted advertising through OTT services like Sling? How might that work, and how might operators serve advertisers in new ways?

Lynch: We think the new advertising capability Sling TV provides is one of the key promises of this service. Our platform allows for dynamic ad insertion, giving advertisers and programmers the ability to deliver more-relevant ads to viewers. Targeting ads in a way that focuses on enhancing the consumer experience brings an enormous level of flexibility and benefit into the ecosystem.

FierceCable: In developing Sling, you seemed to have had a front-row seat to witness the transformation of attitudes among programmers toward participating in OTT services. If there was a watershed event for that, what do you think it was?

Lynch: It's been remarkable to witness the sea change in our industry over the past year. I believe our watershed moment was our work with Disney to craft the kind of rights that have allowed us to move forward with this service. In many ways, we leapt into the unknown with Disney, which required a certain level of confidence and willingness to embrace innovative ways to serve our customers. Once the programming world saw Disney's example, our conversations with partners and potential partners became more productive.

FierceCable: The linear TV numbers coming out from Nielsen are disturbing. Did linear TV just hit some kind of rabbit hole, whereby disruption and audience decay will only accelerate?

Lynch: I think there are a number of long-range factors at play. Video habits are materially changing. The Internet and wireless technologies are enabling this change. The fact is overall video consumption is increasing, so it's important to think about how consumers are viewing their content. That's why we're excited about Sling TV's ability to deliver a live streaming, traditional TV experience in a non-traditional way. All players in this ecosystem will have to embrace innovation to stay with the audience.

FierceCable: Why was the name "Sling" chosen? Was it because it was in the corporate family and well known among consumers already? Did you worry about brand confusion?

Lynch: For us, the Sling TV brand spoke to freedom from many of the constraints that come with the traditional pay-TV experience. We thought it was a natural brand to embrace, and we have been very careful to differentiate our service from Slingbox, which is a hardware device. Our observation is that confusion between the two has been minimal.

FierceCable: Sling includes Maker Studios, but it otherwise has content that is familiar to pay-TV denizens. As a service targeted to millennial-aged consumers, might we see more deals for short-form, more "snackable" content as the Sling service evolves?

Lynch: Absolutely. This type of content and approach is important to our target audience, and we think our deal with Maker Studios has impacted the overall attractiveness of Sling TV. We're looking forward to utilizing the versatility of our platform to provide customers with more innovative content in the future.

Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch on changing programmers' minds, targeted ads, linear TV's 'rabbit hole'