In brief: Sling TV is updating its app on Roku devices to offer more of a content-first user experience. In particular the update will bring with it a greater awareness of how to gain access to content the user might not have access to through their normal Sling TV plan. For example, once the update arrives, the user will be exposed to content Sling TV defines as its “most popular” even if it’s not part of the user’s current package with the option to purchase the right package or add-on to gain access to the specific show they were interested in. Another example offered by Sling is a sports-based one with upcoming games and matches now appearing in the user’s “My TV” section with the option to quickly subscribe to whatever package, add-on or service is required to watch the specific sports event. Although this technically will merge currently available shows with shows that the user does not have access to, the latter will adopt a new small “Add” icon in the top-right corner so it remains clear whether content is accessible or not.
In addition, Sling TV also confirmed the same update will bring with it a new “Restart” option which allows users to quickly re-subscribe to a service or add-on once again to gain access to a particular show. In many ways the two features are very similar from the user perspective as both are designed to promote currently inaccessible content with a quick route to access, with the difference mainly coming down to whether the content is considered new to the user by Sling TV, or is content the user has previously engaged with and might want to again. At present, both of these features have only been confirmed to be rolling out to the Roku platform’s version of the app, with Sling TV confirming the update should begin to show up for devices owners starting from today.
Background: Sling TV is a streaming service which essentially allows users to ‘cut the cord’ and gain access to a variety of on-demand and live TV channels and shows without the need for a long-term contract. This has become an increasingly pungent market of late due to the influx in the number of services now available. However, Sling TV was one of the original services that properly helped to publicize the level of content that can be gained through an app-based approach, and especially when it came to offering live TV access at a lower price than what might be paid via traditional TV methods. For example, Sling TV’s plans start from as little as $25 per month with the option to further customize a package with smaller-priced add-ons.
This combination of choice of content and lower prices has proved well for the DISH Network-owned service which at a recent count showed Sling TV now has more than 2.2 million subscribers. Placing the service somewhat on par with AT&T’s DIRECTV NOW option, and well ahead of competing options like YouTube TV and 'Hulu with live TV' which both are understood to be much closer to the one million subscriber marker at the moment. And even further ahead of the likes of fuboTV and PlayStation Vue who are both believed to currently have well below half a million subscribers. Since the initial launch of the service, Sling TV has looked to continually improve its solution through the introduction of new features, more of an la carte menu, and even some free content. As well as general interface improvements designed to streamline the viewing experience overall - as is the case with this latest one.
Impact: During the announcement detailing the new Roku-based app update, Sling TV strongly argued the logic behind these new features is the focus on a content-first approach. In other words, it takes much of the guessing game out of the equation, with users no longer have to trawl through the finer details of plans, packages and add-ons to find out if it includes the specific content they are interested in. Instead, recommendations that are deemed popular enough will now show up in view with the option to activate or reactivate the relevant add-on service. Of course, while this is beneficial to the end-user, it’s equally, if not more beneficial to Sling TV as both the new features announced today are clearly designed to also increase revenue. Whether it be from current users who then activate new add-ons for additional access at an additional price, or past subscribers who once again subscribe and pay for access.
On a more service-agnostic note, this “content-centric” approach seems to be where the streaming market is now starting to head and is likely to be representative of the next big wave of change following the use of algorithms and other technologies to surface recommended content to users based on their past viewing habits and interests. For example, the Android TV platform (where Sling TV also offers a dedicated app) recently saw a wholesale design change with the introduction of Android Oreo for Android TV. This design essentially shifted the emphasis on apps (or brands) to content in much the same way - where the surfacing of content becomes the most important aspect of the interface. Now, while that’s an example of an system-wide change to focus more on content, the Sling TV update today is an example of the same industry movement at the app level. If other platforms and services continue in the same light, as it’s expected, than it should also be expected that more content will be surfaced above the network or brand who is technically providing the content in the first place. In other words, systems will increasingly start to push towards a subscribe to The Walking Dead model instead of pushing subscribe to AMC to gain access to The Walking Dead. Which in reality, is a win-win situation for everyone. As it not only means relevant content is now being surfaced more often to the user, but also the content surfaced is the best advertisement for a media company and likely what will get more customers to hit the subscribe button.