Sling Media, the place- and time-shifting device company that is now owned by Echostar (NSDQ: SATS), is launching something that seems counter-intuitive on the face of it: a free, ad-supported online video portal aggregating video from various professional sources like TV networks, studios and other independents. Sling.com will launch as a video portal on Nov 24. Anyone can use the site — they don’t have to be a Slingbox user/subscriber, though if they do have it, they can plug that into Sling.com site, and watch live TV through their own TV boxes (like they do now through their online accounts, only in this case it is all integrated).
I spoke to Jason Hirschhorn, the president of its entertainment division, and he explained to me the rationale for the site. The site had been in works even before the company was bought by Echostar, and had been delayed for a bit while the content deals were coming in place.
More details after the jump
Content wise: it has a lot, but the glaring omission is *Viacom/MTV Networks*, which means Comedy Central’s popular shows like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are not available. Hirschhorn said the company is working on a Viacom (NYSE: VIA) deal and hopes to have something to announce soon. And Sling has the Hulu deal, which means it has everything from there except, well, *Viacom* content. It has also done separate deals with Warner, MGM, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Pictures, *CBS*, and others, and is working on doing more. On the movie side, it only has 125 of them, but is working on more. Unlike some of the others, it is also aggregating video news content from AP, Reuters and others. Since most of the media companies don’t do exclusive content-distribution deals, it will get all of those deals anyway, and be competitive on content library, the company hopes.
Functionality/design: more cluttered than Hulu, but then so is every other video site, compared with Hulu’s minimalism. It has good IPG and search capabilities, more editorial curation and blogs from editors. Sling.com has tried to build in a lot more social functionalities, like a news feed of your friends, a la Facebook, profiles, sharing, etc. It is also building connections into other social sites, and working on building widgets and apps for those as well.
Challenges: Huge. Tons of competition from everyone and their mother in law. But Hirschhorn thinks it is still early in the game and no one has won the online video battle. Also, with Echostar behind them, and Charlie Ergen’s support, they are in it for the long haul. Also, online is just one part of the full spectrum for them: with Slingbox, users can watch home TV and DVR online; with doing the same on mobile with SlingPlayer Mobile, with its SlingCatcher service, users could do the reverse: bring online video onto their TVs. Sling.com is another in that spectrum. The convergence hope, in other words. The company also recognizes that the Slingbox is an intermediary product, and that it will soon be integrated with Echostar’s boxes itself. Echostar is the number-two satellite player, so Sling’s distribution will be through those channels in the long term. Conceivably, it could also white label its video portal for cable and satellite providers. But if it could pull this convergence thing off, it would be in competition with the likes of *Apple* and *Comcast*, not the online video players
The big internal challenges would be: how long does Echostar keep supporting it; how long before the main entrepreneurs within Sling, the founder Krikorian brothers and Hirschhorn stay with the company; where do they get the big online traffic funnel, being a company with little online consumer presence; and how do they build up monetization and a sales team, not something the company has been known for till now. And then, that economy thing…
More screenshots of the service here.