BUSINESS

Dish's online TV package, Sling TV, debuts with addition of AMC, extra sports channels

02/09/2015 03:47 EST | Updated 04/11/2015 05:59 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Dish Network's online television service, Sling TV, debuted Monday with AMC, sports and other additions to its previously announced lineup.

In the coming weeks, Sling TV's $20-a-month basic package will get AMC so subscribers will be able to watch such programs as "Mad Men," ''The Walking Dead" and the "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul." The package is also adding the Latino-focused El Rey and Galavision channels from Univision. Those are available immediately, joining a lineup of 11 other channels that include ESPN, CNN and the Disney Channel.

Sling TV also announced a $5-a-month add-on package for sports fans. It adds the SEC Network, Universal Sports and secondary ESPN channels such as ESPN Bases Loaded and ESPN Goal Line. The main package comes with ESPN and ESPN2 along with access to an on-demand WatchESPN app.

It's the first service to offer major cable channels over the Internet, without the need for a cable or satellite subscription, although Sony is expected to debut PlayStation Vue by the end of March. In addition, individual channels such as HBO and Nickelodeon are preparing Internet-only offerings.

Sling TV is meant for those who have dropped their cable or satellite TV service or never had one. It's cheaper than a traditional pay-TV package, but it comes with fewer channels. Before Monday's launch, Sling TV was available on an invitation basis. Now, anyone with an Internet connection in the U.S. can sign up.

Here's a closer look at Sling TV:

— THE BASICS: The $20-a-month basic package comes with at least 14 channels, once AMC starts. These are primarily channels from Disney, Scripps, Time Warner Inc.'s Turner and Univision. Add-on packages for sports, news and kids are each available for $5 a month. Sling TV has a deal with AMC Networks covering other channels including BBC America, IFC and Sundance TV, but it's not yet known what will be offered under which package.

— LIMITATIONS: Viewing is limited to one device at a time, so family members who want to watch TV simultaneously will need multiple subscriptions. The service also lacks recording, pausing or rewinding capabilities, though some channels offer past content on demand. Some programs will be blocked — namely NFL games on mobile devices, which Verizon has the rights for.

— THE DEVICES: Apps are now available for iOS, Android, Mac, PC and Roku. Support for Amazon Fire TV devices is expected in the next few days. Other devices will be added in the coming months.

— NO COMMITMENT: Customers pay for only a month at a time, so it's possible to subscribe just during the months their favourite shows are on. For the rest of the year, there's plenty to watch on Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services.

— THE CHOICE: Go with a traditional package or Sling TV? A traditional package such as Dish's satellite offering offers more channels, but it averages $85 a month. There's also equipment to install. Sling TV requires only an Internet connection. Nonetheless, Sling TV has notable gaps in its lineup, including all over-the-air channels and most cable channels from NBCUniversal. Dish, which is based in Englewood, Colorado, doesn't believe many people will drop satellite just for Sling TV.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Dish Network Corp. CEO Joe Clayton said, "We're going after a market that's 18 to 35. They are younger, better educated, urban dwellers, a little higher level of education. It's a market that the pay TV industry in total is missing today. We do not believe there will be cannibalization of our existing, core satellite TV business. This consumer segment that we're targeting, we're not getting them today."

But even if a customer drops Dish's satellite service because of cost, Clayton said Dish could keep that customer by offering the Sling TV alternative. He said that will ultimately help Dish's wireless ambitions, as it will give Dish a larger base of customers to offer wireless services to.