After long, hard trip, Sling.com's almost ready

Sling Media Entertainment Group President Jason Hirschhorn says at WebbyConnect conference that its video hub is in private beta and the company will kick off its press tour soon. Four words: Hulu on your TV.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

DANA POINT, Calif.--Jason Hirschhorn said negotiating with Hollywood has been "a soul-killing, ego-destroying experience."

But Hirschhorn, president of Sling Media Entertainment Group, also said it's been worth it. Sling is getting ready to roll out some big new projects that he hopes will make it more than the company that made the Slingbox.

In a panel called "A Hard Reset for Hollywood" at the beachfront WebbyConnect conference, Hirschhorn, the former chief digital officer at MTV Networks, talked about Sling.com, a video hub that's is currently in private beta and promises to deliver a huge library of TV and Web video content. (Hirschhorn said later that while making it the biggest is a general goal, the company isn't comparing catalogs and keeping statistics at this point.)

He showed a preview. It looks a lot like Hulu, but with more video (that's what it looks like from a preview, as Sling has not said whether there physically is more) and more social-networking tie-ins--and eventually owners of Slingbox devices will be able to watch streams from their own TVs on it as well. That's key, because it will eliminate the need to install any desktop software, but Hirschhorn couldn't demonstrate the TV streaming because the company has not finished building the Web-based Sling Player for Mac.

Also key? It'll be free. "Free is the name of the game," he said, adding that Sling.com is "playing with some ad networks." As for its hardware business, Sling's SlingCatcher device will soon have "clip-and-sling" capability to take clips from their televisions and send it to their friends.

Hirschhorn elaborated after the panel that future releases of Sling.com--not the initial one--will be able to stream that content directly to SlingCatcher devices, something that has been rumored but not confirmed by the company. That means, yes, you'll be able to watch Hulu or any of Sling's other content partners on your TV. He is not announcing dates yet, but said that the press tour for Sling.com starts in very early November.

Most of this has been announced before, and in some cases it's coming out belatedly--"Clip-and-sling" was first previewed at the 2007 CES trade show nearly two years ago. Hirschhorn said, not surprisingly, that the industry has faced serious difficulties when it comes to online video: securing rights, getting people to keep watching, and figuring out models for making money. These issues are "choking Hollywood," as he described it.

In a world where we expect results on-demand, online video's slow crawl to maturity has left many frustrated, especially now that both the venture dollars and ad dollars are drying up. There continue to be plenty of dead ends and bad ideas. "We just landed on Plymouth Rock and we're on the way to L.A.," Hirschhorn joked. "Nobody knows anything."

Above all, he reiterated that media companies and content producers shouldn't be afraid of distribution, and suggested that exclusive deals are a bad idea--whether it's a network TV show that's not available on the Web or a Web series that's limited to a single site.

"I love television, but television is probably a finite world," he said. "You as the creator, especially when your model is different and smaller, the idea is that you need to go as wide as possible."

This post was updated at 3:56 p.m. PT with clarification from Jason Hirschhorn.