Dish Network Corp. (DISH:US), the second- largest satellite-TV provider, said its new Hopper set-top box will come pre-installed with the Sling Media system, letting customers watch programming live on a range of mobile devices.
Dish is relying on technology it acquired in 2007 that provides viewers with a “TV Everywhere” experience, the company said yesterday. The strategy differs from the approach taken by Dish’s competitors, including Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US), DirecTV and Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC:US), which have pieced together their mobile offerings by forging contracts with programmers one at a time.
The updated set-top box, unveiled yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will be standard equipment for new Dish customers. It’s the first product from any major pay-TV provider that gives users the built-in option to watch their entire channel lineup’s live programming on personal computers, smartphones and tablets. For almost eight years, Sling Media has offered a stand-alone box that lets users watch television on Internet-connected devices.
“Everybody says, ‘TV Everywhere,’ but Sling basically started it,” Chief Executive Officer Joseph Clayton said in an interview. “This is actually TV everywhere and anywhere, in your home and out of your home.”
The Sling-enhanced Hopper will be available at the end of January and be free for customers who sign two-year contracts for certain channel packages. Users will need to download a free Dish Anywhere application on their mobile devices and enter an authorized user name and password to get mobile access to their TV lineup. Dish Anywhere is available for Apple Inc. and Google Inc. Android devices.
Cable companies and DirecTV (DTV:US), the largest U.S. satellite-TV operator, have spent years agreeing to individual contracts with programming companies such as Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US), CBS Corp. (CBS:US) and Comcast’s NBC Universal to gain online rights to programming. The result has been a mishmash of on-demand and live access to certain channels and not others. In some cases, consumers have to pay extra to get the programming on a mobile device.
The Sling approach lets Dish bypass that process, said Vivek Khemka, Dish’s president of product management.
“This is very different than anyone else in the pay-TV industry,” he said. “Their way, you’re paying twice for your own content.”
The risk is that cable and broadcast networks will sue the company to be paid for the mobile rights to their programs. Dish is prepared for a legal fight, Clayton said.
“We’re trying to be at the forefront of existing technology,” Clayton said. “If that means some lawsuits, OK.”
Dish acquired Sling Media Inc. more than five years ago for about $380 million. The unit now operates as a division of EchoStar Corp. (SATS:US), the set-top box manufacturing arm that separated from Dish in 2008. Billionaire Charlie Ergen, who founded Dish, is the chairman of both companies.
Dish, based in Englewood, Colorado, is preparing a “massive advertising campaign” that will show customers the new Hopper’s mobile capabilities, Clayton said.
The set-top box will allow users to transfer recorded shows directly to tablet computers for later viewing in any environment -- with or without a wireless signal. The feature is ideal for airplane viewing, which Clayton said would be illustrated through TV commercials featuring the “Boston Guys,” the Dish pitchmen who showcased the Hopper, or “The Hawpah,” in commercials last year.
“We’ve bet the ranch on the Hopper, and this is the extension,” Clayton said. “There will be an evolution of Hopper capabilities and characteristics.”
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