Dish TV satellite company Echostar is buying Sling Media, makers of the innovative Slingbox, for $380m in a classic corporate behemoth acquires startup story. Will Sling be able to maintain its quirky, innovative persona?
The Slingbox is one of those devices that is rather difficult to explain what it does and how it does it to someone unfamiliar with the concept. It's a convergent device - a tight integration of hardware and software - which has been very well executed right from the get-go. Like TiVo before it, it immediately nailed the user experience for a brand new product category. This is an amazingly difficult thing to pull off.
But the Slingbox was also such a novel concept that explaining how it worked and what it offers was pretty challenging at first (and still is). On top of that, it worked best when paired with a TiVo or similar DVR, which not only narrowed the market initially, but also made it more complicated to explain. It became a "meta" convergent device -- a convergent device on top of a convergent device (in the case of TiVo that meant hardware, software and a subscription surface).
Sling co-founder Blake Krikorian is reportedly "stoked" about the acquisition, saying it will be "business as usual" and that Sling will stay independent within Echostar. That would be best for everyone, if it can happen.
All the major innovation in this connected media space is coming from startups and disrupters like Sling, TiVo, Slim Devices and Apple. The established set-top makers like Motorola and Scientific Atlanta have been comparatively slow and stodgy in their offerings, content it seems to play followers to others' leads. These convergent innovations have typically come from small teams working with a tight focus and a singular vision. This approach doesn't typically work very well in a large corporation.
Let's hope Sling can maintain its innovation streak and combine it with the financial and mainstream clout that Echostar supplies.