The channels included are ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, the Food Network, HGTV, the Travel Channel, Disney, the Cartoon Network, ABC Family, CNN, Maker, adult swim, El Rey and Galavision. Additionally, they offer three add-on packages for $5 each: one for sports, one with news and info, and one for kids.
This is being marketed to cord cutters — people who once had cable. A survey from Esperian marketing near the end of last year put cable cutters at 5.5% of households. To put that into perspective, that translates into 8.6 million households. But there is a larger potential market that is not much talked about, which are the cord-nevers who have never had cable TV — a little more than 24 million households.
The first news stories I saw about Sling TV assumed the package is aimed at millennials, since younger households are leaving cable at the fastest pace. But the demographics of the channels in the line-up paint a different picture. Consider the following average ages of those who watch the following Sling channels: CNN (59.1), ESPN (48.6), ESPN2 (53.1), HGTV (56.4), TNT (53.6), Travel Channel (48.2), Food Network (47.6), and TBS (44.4). There are a few channels for kids: Cartoon Network (11.9) and the Disney Channel (11.7). Overall the average age of the viewers of the Sling channels is 48 years old. That’s not exactly a millennial line-up.
There is also a rumor that some of the contracts for programming are putting a subscriber cap on Sling TV at somewhere between 2 million and 5 million total customers. That would be one way for the programmers to stop the online phenomenon from getting too large. They do not want to put at jeopardy the 100 million households that have a cable subscription of some sort.
All of the numbers say that the market is ready for online TV. Just last week it was announced that between the fourth quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014, overall live TV viewing dropped 12.7%. That’s the average drop, and varied between a 23% drop for Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike, and Comedy Central) and a 7.5% drop for Disney, including ESPN.
A number of analysts say that the viewers that left cable didn’t go away, but instead shifted to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. This trend will bring about changes to the cable industry. Losing advertising eyeballs at this rate is going to translate to less advertising dollars going to cable channels and networks.
One can see this shift already happening in the advertising world. In 2012 there was $39 B of advertising online and $64 B on TV. By 2014 online advertising had grown to $52 B and TV advertising to $67 B. 2015 is projected at $57 B online and $68 B with TV. One can envision that soon after that TV advertising is going to trend downward along with the lost TV viewers.
I look at Sling TV as the first volley among many to provide more programming online. Both Verizon and AT&T say they will have an online programming package sometime in 2015. There have been rumors of a package from Google and also that Apple is taking another run at this. And some of those who have tried in the past like Sony and Microsoft might give it another shot. Even CBS is now streaming their content online for a fee.
This trend towards online programming is likely to get a major boost from the FCC later this year. The FCC is looking at the barriers that programmers have in place against online programming and it’s clear that the sentiment of Chairman Wheeler is to enable more online TV. The current docket at the FCC asks if we should give online programmers the same rights to get content as cable companies. If they are given that right, then online programming will explode.
I am probably going to buy Sling TV. This might even prompt me to buy a television. My interest in TV networks is really limited. My perfect package would be ESPN, the Big Ten Network, HBO, the Food Network, the Travel Channel, and Comedy Central. Sling TV provides me with half of my wish list, which is not bad for a first volley.