Sling TV Chief Executive Roger Lynch finished the race to launch online TV just in time for the start of a new contest between the devices that stream it.
Launched in February,is the first virtual TV service with multiple live channels. Its bundle of select channels, starting at $20 a month, lets customers watch live television over the Internet without a pricey cable subscription loaded up with hundreds of networks. As recently as a couple years ago, that was a galling prospect to the TV industry.
Sling also offers a peek at a possible future for television. As digital video options like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu have gained momentum, people's interest in dropping regular television subscriptions has grown.
Afraid that young people and folks fed up with sky-high cable bills will forsake pay TV completely, some old-school TV companies have shown interest in backing online options like Sling. As the only service of its kind available across the US, Sling provides a glimpse at what may become the norm in your living room.
The emergence of Sling TV, which is based in Englewood, Colorado, and owned by traditional satellite TV provider Dish Network, comes as a clutch of tech giants vie for a place in your home. Google, Amazon and Roku all sell online set-top boxes, and on Monday, Apple began selling its updated $149.
When Apple touted its new box, Chief Executive Tim Cook proclaimed that the future of television is apps. Lynch agrees. He predicts that smart televisions, the sets capable of hooking up to the Internet, will be powered by the companies making streaming boxes. That means your TV screen may look more like your phone than the current, unwieldy grid of channels, times and programs.
But Lynch also viewed Apple's move in the direction of an App Store for television as an interesting reversal for the electronics giant. Apple TV now features a catalog of apps that contrasts with the "pretty closed environment" it previously offered. He hopes this will bring "a lot more content to Apple TV."
Sling TV isn't among the first wave of new content on Apple TV. A Sling TV spokeswoman said the company is evaluating development of an app for Apple TV.
Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.
Customers can watch Sling TV's channels on the boxes and sticks made by Roku and Amazon, on the Nexus Player created by Google and Taiwanese electronics company Asus, and on Microsoft's Xbox 1 gaming console.
Google's popular Chromecast stick is next on the list. A month ago, Sling said its service would be available through a dedicated app for Google's $35 device, which you plug directly into the back of your television. Sling wouldn't specify a date for its app on Chromecast to go live.
Chromecast support will bring Sling TV to more people who want to navigate around their television with a mobile phone, Lynch said. Since Sling TV launched, he said, the majority of people who sign up directly create their account on their phones, even though they end up watching the most hours on their televisions.
Sling TV's basic package of 23 channels for $20 per month includes EPSN, Disney, AMC, Food Network, History Channel, A&E, TNT and ABC Family.
One thing that surprised Lynch as Sling TV expanded is that customers sign up and then keep their traditional pay-TV subscription too. When Sling's head of marketing warned him to expect these so-called "supplementers," Lynch told him that was crazy. But they make up roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of Sling customers.
Sling TV declined to provide its total number of subscribers.
Another surprise: For a service that hinges on live TV, on-demand content is still popular. Some channels like sports giant ESPN are still attractive mostly for live programming, but others like Food Network have a big pile of on-demand shows to watch whenever you feel like it.
For channels like those, people prefer to watch on demand rather than live, and the more video the channel makes available, the more people watch, according to Lynch.
"In every deal that we do, and even after the deal's done, we go back for more content available on demand," he said.
The turnaround in attitude may be the biggest surprise.
"When we were first talking to programmers about what ultimately became Sling TV, we were selling them on the idea," he said. "Now programmers who aren't on Sling TV are selling us on the fact that they should be."