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ESPN Without Cable is Here with Sling TV

Stashed in: Netflix, ESPN, HBO, Comcast

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Disney seems enlightened in allowing ESPN to go after the cord cutters:

In 2012, I wrote a column for The Atlantic magazine explaining why Americans were prisoners of the cable bundle. We could dream about escaping $90-a-month fees for hundreds of channels we didn’t need, but such flights of imagination were, in the short term, hopeless, due to the arrangement of the pay-TV business and fruitful economics of bundling. In 2013, I wrote another column explaining how ESPN had become perhaps the most lucrative entertainment company in the world by gleaning $5 a month from every cable-watching household, even those that had never watched a second of SportsCenter.


Well, two and a half years later, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m beginning to look like an idiot. On Monday, ESPN announced that it’s teaming up with Dish to offer a new Web-only product, Sling TV, that will allow viewers to stream a small bundle of channels including ESPN for just $20. The worldwide leader in sports joins HBO and CBS (including Showtime) in giving cord-cutters a way to watch their channels without buying the full cable package.

Put more dramatically: The most prestigious cable network, the most-watched TV network, and the most expensive cable network have all announced plans to side-step the traditional cable bundle—since just October. (For the next four months to continue the trajectory of such drama, the NFL would have to be shut down for the 2015 season, and Congress would pass a law banning further production on NCIS.)

The economics behind Sling TV are straightforward. There are 10 to 15 million American households with a broadband Internet connection and no cable. Right now they are paying TV companies practically nothing. TV companies would like them to pay something. So they'll try to thread the needle by creating a product that is good enough for this group—a.k.a.: the cord-cutters or the cord-nevers—but not so good that cable subscribers trade in their $90 monthly payments.

Whether this offering will “work” is unknowable at the moment. Dish has been buying up lots of wireless spectrum nationwide to make Sling TV work smoothly, but anybody who’s tried to watch live TV on their computer knows it can be a hair-tuggingly awful experience.

But whether it “works” is also a secondary story. The real story is that it’s happening in the first place. The cable bundle is coming apart, and there’s basically no way we’re ever getting back to 2012.

The very concept of television has unbundled completely. The word itself means radically different things for different generations. To a teenager, televisionmight mean YouTube, Vine, and Facebook videos. To a twentysomething college grad, it is (their parents’ password to) Netflix and (their roommate’s sister’s password to) HBO Go. To a family of four, it’s the plain old cable bundle. To a sports fanatic living alone, it’s $90 a month to watch ESPN.

ESPN a la carte arrives later in 2015. 

More details:

The service is scheduled to be available in the coming weeks -- no exact launch date was given -- on an impressive array of Internet-connected devices, including Xbox One, Roku media streamers, PCs, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, and iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.


The $20 Sling TV base package includes ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, TNT, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and the "best of Internet video" with Maker Studios. Add-on packs with additional kids and news programming will be available for $5 each.


Biggest downside: No DVR capabilities yet.

Lovers of Fox News will have to wait for a Fox Box.

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