Deeper Dive—Sling TV is having a moment

Sling TV
We’ll likely have to wait for third-quarter earnings season to find out if Sling TV can capitalize on its renewed price and distribution advantages. (Sling TV)

Sling TV is an elder statesman of the virtual MVPD community. As its competitors raise prices, the service is standing firm and adding some important distribution points.

Sling TV launched in 2015 at a starting price point of $20/month. Current prices for either the Sling Blue or Sling Orange channel package are $30/month, a relatively small increase over a five-year period. Sling TV has been able to achieve this price consistency in part by not offering broadcast channels, which it instead integrates via over-the-air antenna signals.

Despite its low price, Sling TV has taken some losses along with the wider U.S. vMVPD market. The service slowly but steadily added subscribers for years and reached 2.69 million by the end of the third quarter last year. However, Sling TV lost subscribers for the first time in the fourth quarter and then lost some more in the first quarter of 2020.

Indeed, the first quarter wasn’t a great time for vMVPDs overall. S&P Global Market Intelligence estimated it was the first quarterly decline for the vMVPD segment and that the services collectively lost 261,000 subscribers to finish the quarter with 9.2 million subs. Gains from Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV were offset by declines from Sling TV and AT&T TV Now along with Sony's decision to shutter PlayStation Vue in January.

With professional sports still mostly on hold from April through June and economic pressures persisting, the second quarter could also be a struggle for all vMVPDs. Sling TV, though, has some compelling reasons to be confident moving forward.

After June ended with both YouTube TV and fuboTV raising their monthly rates, Sling TV was savvy enough to respond with a one-year price guarantee for all subscribers signed up by August 1. A few weeks later, Amazon Fire TV revealed that Sling TV – along with YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and Philo – was getting deeper integration within the platform’s live TV section along with added Alexa functionality.

However, the biggest news for Sling TV is its launch on Comcast Xfinity Flex, the cable provider’s hardware/platform product for its broadband-only subscribers. Sling TV is the first vMVPD to arrive on Flex. Comcast recently said it’s deployed one million Flex devices within its footprint.

A longtime industry insider who asked to remain anonymous told FierceVideo the deal looks like an acknowledgment by Comcast that some broadband customers are potentially unreachable as traditional video subscribers. The individual also said adding Sling TV to Flex will keep consumers engaged and could make money for Comcast from subscription fees and advertising.

For Sling TV, the launch reinforces the service’s push for device ubiquity, the individual said, adding that Sling TV helps eliminate consumer confusion and set itself apart by being the low-cost option that is available everywhere.

“[Dish Network Chairman] Charlie Ergen created Sling to break the model. All the things that create price pressure in traditional packages, they avoided it,” the individual said. “Now it’s about a return to growth and a return to relevance. They were the first ones out there and everyone piled on and the market became confusing. They maybe got a bit lost in the crowd but now they’re re-presenting themselves.”

For now, we’ll likely have to wait for third-quarter earnings season to find out if Sling TV can capitalize on its renewed price and distribution advantages.