Over the years, Sling TV has made a name for itself by offering live TV streaming through plans that start well below the seemingly industry average of around $55 to $65 per month. And if you’ve ever wondered how the company has gotten away with that price difference for so long, the answer comes down to mostly one thing: Sling TV’s general lack of direct local channel access. We recently spoke with Adam Kucera, Sling’s director of sales, about the company’s reliance on alternatives to offer local programming, how the new app rollout is going, and more.
(Editor’s note: This interview is based on a video conversation we had with Sling TV’s Adam Kucera in June of 2021. Check out our recent video for Kucera’s full comments.)
On Sling TV’s Approach To Local Channel Access
Unlike competitors like, say, YouTube TV or Hulu with Live, Sling TV doesn’t offer widespread direct access to local channels. Instead, the service has traditionally leaned on alternatives like free over-the-air (OTA) access as a way to supplement the channels supplied through its live TV streaming service.
To that end, the company offers a lineup of AirTV products meant to take advantage of OTA programming, including tuners and DVRs. The idea there is that by leveraging free access to local channels, Sling TV can save some money on licensing fees and offer a lower monthly cost to subscribers.
“We also know that going out and getting a local channel in every market and doing that, that’s where it get very complicated,” Kucera said. “That’s where you have hundreds, if not more, of agreements, contracts. And that’s where you then start to layer on that pricing. … Adding locals to a package, what most of our competitors and cable have — $15 to $20 of that package price is just going to those local channels. So we made a decision very early on that that wasn’t something that we wanted to do.”
We also touched upon the fact that AirTV’s integration within Sling TV’s app is not yet universal. Put another way: Of the devices and platforms that support the Sling TV app, not all of them also support AirTV. Kucera said a lot of engineering and product development work goes into integrating AirTV’s data into a given app, but the company ultimately does want to see more widespread support.
“We want to be on all of them. We want to be ubiquitous,” Kucera said. “It takes a long time. It’s not super simple and each of those platforms has some unique elements that we need to adjust for. It’s not just a copy/paste always.”
Beyond OTA access, Sling has recently started rolling out support for Locast, the non-profit streaming service that offers local channels over the internet (for a suggested monthly donation). And Kucera said as Locast adds more cities to its list (like the recent addition of the Columbus, Ohio, market), Sling users on supported platforms like Android and Android TV shouldn’t have to do anything fancy on their end to enable support.
“It’s actually very automatic. If a market launches, basically the way that we’ve configured it, almost automatically or within about a day, we do a little refresh and that market now has that integration. They’ll see the popups to let them know that that’s available,” Kucera said.
He added that Sling users who purchase a supported device in a Locast-supported market should also see a notification informing them the local streaming service is available in their area.
Kucera went on to say the company is keeping an eye on the growth and adoption rate of ATSC 3.0, the new broadcasting standard that’s gradually gaining support in local, over-the-air markets. It’s clearly on Sling’s radar, though Kucera stopped short of announcing any specific new hardware that would support the new standard.
“We are looking at (the) future state of AirTV products and kind of the next possible iterations of those products, and certainly ATSC 3.0 is absolutely a part of that discussion,” Kucera said. “Don’t have anything to talk about today, but definitely it is something that we consider and talk about quite a bit.”
Why Price Hikes Happen
We also spent some time talking about price hikes, and how many live TV streaming services have upped their monthly fees over the past year or so. And that includes Sling TV, which announced a $5 monthly increase back in January. That price bump initially affected new customers and those who made certain changes to their existing account. And Kucera reminded folks that existing users who qualified for the company’s “1 Year Price Guarantee” promotion should also start seeing the increase this August, when the promotional period ends.
“We’re keenly aware that we want to stay with that value proposition. Price is important, but we also have to be very aware of our own business and so we do as little increases as we possibly can to continue to remain profitable and to minimally impact our consumers,” he said.
As for why so many live TV streaming services have announced price hikes within a relatively short time frame, the common refrain seems to be that the costs involved in creating new content continue to increase and, in turn, so do the costs involved in licensing that content.
“We don’t create the content,” Kucera said. “We don’t have a channel. We don’t do that content. We are getting that content from all of our great partners and it costs money to create that content. It costs money to have the studios, run the studios, to do all of the production. Actors, actresses, you name it. All of that continues to rise in price and so they are trying to run a business and remain profitable. Some of that has to be passed on to us. We do that best that we can to not have to pass on as much as we can to our subscribers, but that’s just kind of how TV has worked for decades and decades and decades.”
Sling’s New App
In the near-term, Sling is in the middle of rolling out an updated interface to supported devices. Fire TV users were first in line for the revamped app and you can check out our recent video on what’s new and what’s changed. Kucera says reaction to the new app has been positive overall, among both existing users who are familiar with the outgoing interface, as well as brand-new subscribers coming to the new app fresh.
Of course, universal approval doesn’t happen all that often. And the comments section of our recent video preview includes concerns from some users about changes in the UI and missing features. If you count yourself among those on the fence about the new app, Kucera does offer some cause for hope.
“What’s out there today and what some of the Amazon Fire (TV) users are starting to see is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Kucera said. “We’re going to continue to innovate within the app. We’re going to continue to innovate on our Sling.com, where people come to find out about Sling, to sign up for Sling. All of those are places where we are innovative. We are making changes. You’re going to see over the next, even, weeks, months — if we have this conversation a year from now, the difference I think is going to be very stark, but in a great way.”
For more from Sling TV’s Adam Kucera, be sure to check out our recent video interview.
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