Sling founder 'stoked' about sale to EchoStar

Sling Media chief Blake Krikorian talks about the sale of his company to the maker of Dish Networks and what it will mean for their funky red trapezoid set-top box.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read

Blake Krikorian can't be blamed for using surfer slang to describe his elation at being acquired by Echostar Communications on Monday.

The co-founder and CEO of Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox set-top device, along with his brother Jason, came up with a game-changing idea for the mobilization of TV content and now seven years later, they've finally cashed in. A day after EchoStar Communications, which owns satellite provider Dish Network, announced it would acquire Sling for $380 million, Krikorian spoke to CNET News.com about what it means for the company, future products and relationships with content owners.

Blake Krikorian
Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian Sling Media

Though he could barely contain his excitement, he says going forward it should be "business as usual" for Sling, which will remain intact as a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar. However, now they've got the goods to really do what they want to do.

"We get to accelerate some of our efforts in terms of funding, access to technology," he said in a phone interview. "EchoStar has built a lot of their own products, deployed more DVRs than anyone in the world. All that software and hardware they built themselves. It's pretty interesting technology for us to leverage into some of our solutions."

Sling's funky trapezoid-shaped set-top box allows cable and satellite subscribers to "placeshift" their channels to remote devices like mobile phones and PCs. Though he does anticipate working directly with Dish Network to differentiate some of the Dish products, Krikorian insisted Sling will remain "carrier or operator agnostic." He says EchoStar understands this as well.

"They're telling us to 'Go, run like crazy, and do what you're doing, and let us know how we can help you. And by the way, here's a bunch of technology.'"

The relationship between Sling and EchoStar goes back a bit. The satellite company is just one of several of the companies that had given a total of $58 million in investment. He wasn't looking necessarily to sell Sling, and in fact the company was on the verge of closing a third round of investment when the EchoStar idea presented itself, Krikorian said.

So why a satellite provider and not a software, hardware or media company? Krikorian says the chances of getting lost in the shuffle at a big media company were "very high" and going to a straight-up technology company wouldn't provide the established relationships with content providers. Cable was not an option because of the companies' limited reach, he said.

Besides the wealth of technology and resources Echostar has to offer, Krikorian says he was attracted to the culture at Colorado-based EchoStar--namely that it's not corporate.

"The guy who's running the place is the guy who founded it. (Charlie Ergen, co-founder and CEO) is an entrepreneur, not a corporate suit," he said.

For Krikorian, he believes EchoStar pays as much attention to creating technology, as it does to the bottom line. There's also a certain legitimacy that comes from association with an established content distributor like EchoStar, which will likely be key for a boundary-pushing company like Sling.

The nature of its business--place-shifting content anywhere--has made some content creators more than a little nervous. Home Box Office and Major League Baseball's Advanced Media division have publicly complained that Sling enables its customers to illegally re-broadcast content. But that was when Sling was a lonely little start-up. Having EchoStar acting as a proverbial bodyguard might scare the bullies away.

"If anything, (HBO and MLB will) look at (the Slingbox) with more comfort and more positively than they looked at it before. The fact of the matter is, going to EchoStar versus another technology or software company is...they know EchoStar. EchoStar pays them hundreds of millions of dollars annually," said Krikorian. EchoStar "values content. They make money by selling premium content."