Bad news, cord cutters: The cheapest way to watch SportsCenter just got 25 percent more expensive.
For three and a half years Sling TV has let you watch 20-odd live TV channels including ESPN, AMC, TNT, CNN and Disney, without subscribing to cable, for $20 a month. It now costs $5 more.
The new price for people who subscribe to the Sling Orange package of channels is $25 per month. No new live TV channels have been added; the package remains unchanged beyond price.
"Programming prices only go one direction and this increase is recognizing that," said Warren Schlichting, president of Sling TV.
The price is effective immediately for new subscribers, but existing Sling Orange customers will have a month before their bills go up. Unlike DirecTV Now's initial pricing offer there's no grandfather clause. Existing customers can't keep the $20 price if they maintain their subscriptions.
Sling TV, a subsidiary of satellite provider Dish Network, was the first service to allow subscribers to stream multiple channels of live TV over the Internet without a cable or satellite subscription. Others that launched afterward include Philo ($16/month), DirecTV Now ($35), YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue and Hulu with Live TV (all $40). Each allows free trials with no contracts or commitments and the ability to cancel and resubscribe anytime.
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Sling is the largest of the bunch in terms of subscribers, with 2.3 million, followed by DirecTV Now at 1.46 million and Hulu at 800,000. YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue have yet to divulge subscriber numbers, but an analyst at TDG research said recently that the total between all such services is about about 5.1 million. For context, the number of pay TV households in the U.S. hovers around 100 million.
Today isn't the first time such a live TV streamer has raised its base price. PlayStation Vue went from $30 to $40 last year. As programming costs continue to go up and traditional cable wanes in popularity, cord cutters who want to stream live TV could face more such hikes.
Sling TV announced no other changes to its subscription fees. Sling Blue, the company's other package -- featuring a different mix of 35 channels including Fox and NBC channels but not ESPN or Disney -- remains at $25 per month, and you can still subscribe to Orange and Blue together for $40.
Free "Flip or Flop," no subscription required
Perhaps in anticipation of people cancelling due to the price hike, Sling TV is rolling out what it calls a new experience.
The Sling app will add a new "Watch Now" row featuring free TV shows and movies. At launch it will include around 100 hours of programming, with shows like "Wrecked," "The Detour," "Good Behavior," "Flip or Flop" and more. They'll include ads which vary in length per show; some ad breaks will be two minutes and some will be shorter.
"We wanted to find ways to build the relationship with customers even when they're not paying us," explained Schlichting. "So that when you're ready to start paying again, we're there for you and provide value even between subscriptions."
There's a couple of catches. Watch Now is only available on Roku, and only to current and former subscribers who no longer pay for Sling TV. That includes people who cancel without paying after the free trial period ended, which Schlichting described as a "little loophole." Sling will add platforms beyond Roku soon, and Schlichting said it's considering opening up its free content to everyone who installs the Sling TV app.
Sling's move into free TV streaming follows the launch of the Roku Channel, which also offers a selection of free, curated, ad-supported movies, TV shows and now news to Roku users. It's currently the ninth-most watched channel on Roku.
Meanwhile free TV provider Pluto TV recently claimed to have "twice the audience of all the vMVPDs combined," a reference to live TV streaming services like Sling and YouTube TV. Even Vizio is moving into the free TV game, with a Pluto-like service coming soon to its Smart TVs.
More standalone options (no discounts)
Also available to current and former subscribers will be the following standalone channels within the Sling app, each with a monthly fee:
- Showtime: $10
- CuriosityStream: $6
- Stingray Karaoke: $7
- Dove Channel: $5
- Outside TV Features: $5
- Up Faith & Family: $5
- Pantaya: $6
- NBA League Pass: $28.99
Sling will also make UFC Ultimate Fighting and other pay-per-view events available to former subscribers who don't want to pay for a Sling subscription.
Prices for the channels above and for PPV fights aren't discounted compared to buying the channel or pay-per-view fight separately, for example via the Showtime or CuriosityStream apps. Schlichting said the idea was to continue to offer a single destination -- the Sling app -- as opposed to having to use a bunch of different apps.