Sling TV Suppliers Say The Company Has Less Than 500,000 Subscribers, Decelerating Signups

In a regulatory filing in August of this year, Dish said they had 169,000 subs as of the end of March for their Sling TV live streaming service. Since then, the company has refused to say how many paid subscribers they have, their churn rate or detail any user trends around their live streaming offering. We don’t know who the average user is, how long they watch or any other key demographic details around live video consumption on the Sling TV platform.

In order to operate, Sling TV relies on a host of third-party vendors and some of those companies I have spoken to, who know what Sling TV’s traffic looks like, told me the company had less than 500,000 paying subscribers at the end of October. This number would align with some of the estimates that analysts have put out in the market, pegging Sling TV’s subscriber count at around 400,000. Another detail I’ve been told about Sling TV is that the service has seen decelerating signups since they launched in the market. There was a rush of sign ups when the service first came out, but now, the growth hasn’t been that impressive. Of course, Dish won’t comment on any of this, and in interviews with the media Sling TV’s CEO says they are “happy” and “pleased” with their growth, but that’s what we would expect them to say.

In an interview with Sling TV’s CEO, published yesterday, the CEO says that “sports is an area that’s a strong suit for us“, except that for most sports fans, it isn’t. ESPN broadcasts more shows than actual live sports. In the NYC area, games from the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Knicks, Jets, Giants, etc. are all on channels Sling TV doesn’t have (MSG, SNY, FOX, CBS). And while Sling TV likes to call out how they have March Madness and how big of a deal that is, March Madness only lasts for one month out of the year and in 2015, 22 of the games were broadcast online for free. Sling TV won’t say how many people sign up for their service, just for the month of March and then cancel. But that’s the kind of stat we need to know to see if people are using Sling TV as a one-off for something like March Madness, or sticking around once the tournament is over.

Due to content owners requirements, Sling TV isn’t allowed to let customers stream more than one channel at a time. So for households with multiple people or families, Sling TV isn’t really a viable option. Sling TV likes to refer to their service à la carte, but the fact is it’s not. I can’t sign up to Sling TV and only pick the channels I want. Adding packages of channels grouped together isn’t à la carte at all. If there is one thing that companies in the OTT space should have realized by now, it’s that you have to set proper expectations in the market. You can’t say you are going to replace or disrupt a service like cable TV, when the reality is your service lacks so much in the way of content, quality and functionality. But this is exactly what Sling TV is doing when they imply that their service can match what you get from your cable company for live TV. And it’s a very confusing message since at the same time, they say that many of their subscribers are people who have never signed up for cable.

Then there is the comment that Sling TV’s CEO made when asked about the number of complaints around Sling TV’s video quality.  He said that “streaming live TV over the internet at the scale that we’re doing it is relatively new.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is nothing “new” about it. Sling TV doesn’t have many subscribers so their scale isn’t large at all, especially since they are relying on third-party CDNs to deliver their content. Compared to other live streaming services on the Internet, like Twitch, that streams live to more than a million simultaneous users 24 hours a day, Sling TV is very small.

Sling TV’s CEO has said that data caps that Comcast is “trialing” which are capped at 300GB per month, “just happen to be at a level at or below what someone would use if they’re watching TV on the internet.” Again, not the case. The average non-mobile Sling TV stream is delivered at about 3Mbps. On mobile, it’s just over 1Mbps. If the average person watched 5 hours a day of Sling TV video on a large screen, and 2 hours a day on mobile, they would transfer a total of 230GB a month. Well below Comcast’s 300GB cap, which should be noted is something Comcast is only trialing. And I will guarantee you that the average Sling TV user is not watching 7 hours of video a day, 30 days a month. The numbers don’t add up.

Sling TV is a niche offering, targeting a very small segment of the population, with a limited amount of content. And the moment you start adding multiple channel packages on top of Sling TV’s base offering, it loses the one advantage associated with Sling TV – the price. Adding in their sports, kids and HBO packages, brings Sling TV’s price to $45 a month. My triple play bundle with Verizon is $110 a month, and of that, $50 of it is for cable. So I’m getting a lot more value from cable, for $5 more a month, at better quality, on more than one device at a time.

I’m not knocking Sling TV’s service for what it does well. It offers a very limited amount of content, on a lot of devices, for a modest price. For some, it is perfect at what it does and I think the more options consumers have the market, the better it is for competition. But comparing Sling TV to cable TV isn’t accurate. It’s not the same service, at the same quality and if Sling TV is saying they have scaling problems with at most 200,000 streams at the same time, it’s only more evidence that services like Sling TV won’t make any sizeable dent in the cable TV business. Remember Aereo? That was supposed to kill off cable TV, and they had just under 88,000 paying subscribers before they closed down. Dish needs to set better expectations in the market of the potential for Sling TV and back it up with realistic numbers and user data. Otherwise, they take a big chance that they set themselves up for failure due to unrealistic expectations set by the industry and those on Wall Street.

  • fartoomanyaccounts

    Well, isn’t this the vociferous little hit piece. I especially like the couple of sentences near the end that the author put in to make it sound like he was at least a little bit open-minded. “I’m not knocking Sling TV’s service for what it does well. It offers a very limited amount of content, on a lot of devices, for a modest price.” Wow. You better hold off on any more of the effusive praise there, before people start calling you a Sling TV fanboy.
    I personally am a Sling TV subscriber., and have been since about May. And I’ll be the first person to tell you about being frustrated with the technical problems with the service. When I’m watching on my TV at home the video and audio streams desync with annoying frequency. Occasionally a channel I’m streaming will start pausing and stumbling, sometimes returning to proper form after a bit and sometimes driving me to abandon whatever I was trying to watch in annoyance. (I have found, interestingly, that streaming problems can vary a lot both by the time of day you’re watching and even switching from channel-to-channel at the same time ofday.) Until recently, the Windows desktop program was so buggy and so prone to hangs as to almost be unusable. Most of all, I’m mad at Dish for having made apparently little headway in fixing a lot of these problems over the past six months-plus.
    But, despite all that, I’ve kept my subscription, and kept my status as a cord-cutter. Why?
    First, because it is still a fairly new service and part of me still hopes that the problems that burden the service will get fixed sometime in the near future. (Though, as I said, Sling management seems to almost be trying to test that patience.)
    Second, because doing Sling TV + Netflix is a suitable replacement (yes, *replacement*) and much, much better deal for me than any cable or satellite option I’ve looked at. Not even close.
    From past experience having a cable subscription my viewing tended to be highly concentrated in a relatively few channels. ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, History, TNT/TBS, maybe CNN, and one or two others. All of which (save USA, which I’d love to see added at some point) are in Sling TV’s base package. For $20 a month. No contract. Plus, I’ve discovered that I’m fond of some of the other channels in the package that I’d never really looked at before, like IFC and H2. Plus I get authorization to use WatchESPN when I want to, well, watch ESPN or ESPN 2, a streaming service that lacks Sling’s sometime issues. Superb.
    So, take Sling TV, put it alongside getting the broadcast networks in HD over-the-air and subscribing to Netflix for movies and back TV shows, and I get an arrangement that is far, far more efficient and economical for me than anything I’ve see from Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T offers in my area. (Even considering any bundling options with phone and/or internet, and even with a two-year contract rate.) I understand not everybody’s in my situation (a 32-year old single guy who lives in a 1BR apartment). If you’re happy doing cable, satellite, FIOS TV, or whatever, great. But for a lot of people today a service like Sling can give us what we want and do so so a lot more efficiently, cost-wise, than cable/satellite/etc.
    If we can just get the stupid thing to work right…

    • Robert A. Ober

      So you call it a hit piece and then list several problems with Sling TV. Sounds to me like the article was dead on.

      I have considered subscribing but am waiting on NBCSN. Some of us don’t give a damn about ESPN. I watch open wheel racing such as Indycar and F1, both of which are carried on NBCSN.

      Robert

  • Craig Davis

    Sling is a streaming app just like Netflix. Sure it has hiccups just like the other apps. I love sling tv cuz it offers the channels I watch the most. And it’s cheap. It’s the perfect alternative when paired with Netflix.

  • David Ellis

    The problem with this article is that Dan Rayburn is for hire, and writing on behalf of his big
    telco/cable clients (of which Comcast is one) while claiming to be an
    objective voice. Some of you may recall Richard Bennett from around
    here. He’s one of Dan’s associates, he provides Dan with the “data” and
    Dan goes off to write smear articles under the guise of a blog.

    This
    article should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. Need proof,
    read up on Frost and Sullivan (Dan’s day job) and their “marketing”
    agreement with Comcast.

    • danrayburn

      Please, stick to the facts. Making things up to try and bolster your agenda is just silly. F&S has no marketing agreement with Comcast. Richard Bennett and I are not “associates”. We don’t work together in any capacity. I am not hired or paid to write on “behalf” of any person or company.

      Debate the topic of the post, not lies that you want to make up.

  • heady

    Switched to Sling 6 mos ago from Comcast. Paying $20 for a couple dozen channels. For better or worse, I watch Bloomberg most since they allow rewinding and therefore skipping commercials. Pay $5 extra for ESPN extras which are rarely used, but again only $5. My previous comcast cable plan with two DVR boxes and blast internet was $250.

  • slfisher

    I love Sling.

    1. It’s hella cheap compared to cable.
    2. Better customer service than cable.
    3. I can cancel at any time, rather than locking in for two years.
    4. I can get HBO!
    5. I can get ESPN!
    6. I can get AMC!
    7. The other channels are nice too.
    8. I can stream as well as watch live!

    The only thing I wish it did was offer Starz, and I can now get that through Amazon Prime.

  • Dcolmans

    This article, at a certain point sounds a lot like the Comcast post that was put out there then quickly pulled back because of the inaccuracies of how bad it would be to leave cable. The author here kinda sounds, either like he was paid to write the article or he already works for one of the companies.

    Gotta say, been off of cable for a about 6 months now, yes one of the early ones into the Sling universe. Have Sling, Netflix and HBONow, all streaming through my Roku and then there are the 29 HD OTA Channels as well. Paying for the standard charge INTERNET in my neighborhood. My price is the best its ever been, the selection of choices are more than enough. Also, I could complain about the quality of some of the shows at certain times, but that would make cable sound perfect for reception and we all know that’s not true either.

    The article, is definitely biased, definitely – sorry Dan Rayburn reads like you are an infomercial not a reporter. Biased is biased, not informative.

    • danrayburn

      No one paid me to write any article. If you read this in the NYT, would you ask them the same question.

      I don’t see you debating or questioning any of the actual numbers and data from the post. Numbers don’t lie.

  • Bogy

    To start aeero was forced out of business for legal reasons before they were able to get into many markets. I have had sling for a few months it was a little iffy at first on wifi but once I wired it I haven’t had a problem since. I think sling is an amazing replacement company for cable I pay $35.00 a month. I also have Netflix and Hulu which supplement this service perfectly so total for internet and subscriptions I am under $100 a month which is far less then the $150.00 I was paying for internet and cable. We are a family of 6 and have a lot easier time to find something to watch then ever before.

  • Larry_Di

    I am the ideal person Sling TV is trying to target with their service and I cancelled it after one month. Video always freezes, when it doesn’t, quality is poor. It’s even worse on mobile and they use that as a reason to get it to begin with. I’d rather pay for cable, it works, it looks good.

  • Bluegrass Ky

    Sling Tv works great for me. Ive had it since June. I could easily stream any show I want by getting on my computer and visiting a website or two but I choose to pay Sling Tv for a few channels. People don’t understand how easy it is to stream live tv on certain websites. Cable tv is over at the $100 price tag.

  • TiSu

    I’ve had Sling since the end of Feb, it was buggy at first but Sling has worked out most of the bugs. A recent update made it easier to look at each channel’s content libraries (particularly useful if you have missed a broadcast of your favorite show on AMC). I only use the app on Roku or FireTV so I can’t speak to its current desktop versions or xboxONE version.

    One of the best aspects of sling for a sports fan without traditional cable, is the access to the Watch ESPN app. Instead of being limited to the games broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2, the app gives a viewer access to over 16 college conferences, high school sports, and pro sports from around the world.

  • jesse

    while its still sometimes buggy, it sure beats giving anyone at comcast an extra cent.

  • Ercadm

    I love sling and have been using it for just over a year. Hgtv,food,ESPN,amc and many more with more being added all the time. Yeah sure during the season premiere of game of thrones last year on HBO sucked but that wasn’t slings fault it was HBO and they admitted it.

  • Jack Goodman

    “Adding in their sports, kids and HBO packages, brings Sling TV’s price to $45 a month. My triple play bundle with Verizon is $110 a month, and of that, $50 of it is for cable. So I’m getting a lot more value from cable, for $5 more a month”

    Several points here…

    1. $50 tier cable is low tier. $20 Sling TV is low tier. No one forces Sling customers to pay $45/mo! No one forces Sling customers to more than a 1 Mo commitment! And NO F-n body raises your rates after the incentive period!

    2. Do you really get HBO with the $50 package? No, didn’t think so…so why you add it in to the comparison?!

    3. Since you have “triple play bundle” the cable company can say they charge you whatever (in this case $50) to make you feel better. But let’s say the cable co pisses you off tomorrow and you want to cut the cable…well then you gotta break up that bundle. Now how empowered do you feel as a customer when you gotta spend 45 min on the phone talking to some min wage high school drop out (just dis’n them for effect…don’t really mean it…but when you have gone through the process several times you will understand my sentiment) just to kill your cable? On the other hand if you get pissed at Sling or want to change the offerings (which I have done) then internet browser up and click/click/click and you are done and you will receive a polite confirmation email! Dan, how easy is that!

    • danrayburn

      Yes, I do get HBO and Showtime as part of my package. It’s included in the costs I listed.

      I like the commitment. I’m not moving, and since I sign a two year contract, my price won’t go up for two years. I’m locking in a price.

      Yes, my price will go up after two years, that’s for sure, but since I also have Verizon for my cell service, I get 8% off my bill each month for bundling. So that’s another added benefit.

      And with more than one person in my household, Sling TV’s one stream at a time limitation simply won’t work in my house, and a large percentage of other households as well. It’s a technical limitation of the service that cable TV does not have.

      • Jack Goodman

        I’m glad you like the commitment because you’re stuck! So there’s that!

        Oh so you are on a promotional rate. Why didn’t you say so? For one month you can get Sling TV for free. Free or $50?.. that is the better question. And just wait when the promotional commitment is over they’ll charge you double! I just looked at my local cable co with a similar offer of $118 that goes up to $225 (w/o taxes). And that is what you get for being a loyal customer! Good luck with that!

        I have a family of 5 and really nobody wants to watch any network TV w/commercials except when we watch sports. So with Netflix and Amazon Prime and gaming consoles nobody even cares. This aint your dads TV! This here is 2015 and OTT is here to stay. Now add true DVR capability to Sling and it’s a runaway hit.

        • danrayburn

          I have a service I like, at a price I think is affordable. How does that make me “stuck”? I had options, I chose the one best suited for me. I am not on a “promotional” rate. I have no discounts on my bill, other than the discount for wireless.

          You are missing the point. Why would I want Sling TV for free when it does not have the content I watch? I can’t get the Mets, Jets, Giants, Rangers, Knicks on Sling TV. I can’t get the military channel, FX, Discovery and the other channels I watch. No service is an option if they don’t have the channels I need as part of the service.

          And my household watches more than one cable TV channel at a time, on multiple TVs. I can’t do that with Sling TV, it’s not supported.

          • Jack Goodman

            Exactly! They don’t compare! One is high priced and often requires commitment and equipment rental and the other is low priced and requires no commitment! So why directly compare? Good luck with the writing career.

          • danrayburn

            Sling TV says their competitors are, amongst others “traditional paid TV providers”. Sling TV compares them.

  • Jack Goodman

    “Remember Aereo? That was supposed to kill off cable TV, and they had just under 88,000 paying subscribers before they closed down.”

    Whoa Dan Rayburn! Like you are telling others you should address “the numbers”. Before the FCC (and courts) killed it Aereo was available only in a handful of markets (like 7 or so). It was available for only a limited time. Aereo was not promoting at the end since they were locked in the legal battle. They did NOT “close down” they were shut down by court order through the influence of the cable companies and content providers! So…using this as an omen for Sling TV is WAY out of line!

    • danrayburn

      I’m not using Aereo as an “omen” for Sling TV, but we can use their numbers to show the limited market for such a service like Sling TV.

      • Jack Goodman

        No. That’s a complete non sequitur! Aereo’s limited market was because they were IN limited markets! They were growing fast from 0 to whatever while they were allowed but then the feds shut them down. No logic here for limited market!

        • danrayburn

          Aereo was in some of the largest markets in the U.S., including NYC, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and others. In the nearly two years Aereo was available in NYC, they gained only 27,000 paying customers. Growing from 0 to 27,000, in two years, in a market with over 10M people, that’s not “growing fast”.

          • Jack Goodman

            Ohhh Dan look like yo number don’t match reality….

            http://blogs.wsj.com/cmo/2014/12/30/in-its-last-6-months-of-existence-aereo-subscriptions-grew-40/

            “Yes, Aereo Inc. was tiny. But it grew a lot faster than most people thought.

            The now-defunct Web TV service, which recently filed for bankruptcy, ended its run in June with a little more than 108,000 subscribers in 14 cities, according to its filings with the U.S. Copyright Office. While small, Aereo grew its subscriber base by nearly 40%between the end of last year, when it had about 78,000 customers, and June.”

          • Jack Goodman

            40% in 6 mo? What?

          • Jack Goodman

            Sure, whatever…but understand this…at that growth rate they would be at 12M in 7 years! It’s called market penetration and it doesn’t happen overnight. Would they continue at that rate, probably not but if like you say they had no growth potential then why were the content providers and cable co’s huge lobby and legal force out to get them? Unlike Sling, Aereo had DVR capability and that was a big plus for them…

          • danrayburn

            So from July to December it added 30,000 subs, or 5,000 customers a month. At 108,000 subs, that’s one tenth, of one percent of the total market for pay TV. In NYC, they ended with 33,000 subs, in two years of being in the market. You think 33,000 people signing up for a service, out of a population of 10M, is a big deal? It’s not. The numbers prove it.

            Calling it 40% is misleading when the base number it is growing off of is so low. Growth percentages only matter when the numbers growing are large. If you grow from 100 to 200 that’s 100% growth. Sounds like an impressive % number, but it’s not when you look at the actual numbers that are growing.

  • JeffMcHenry

    Missing the point here, without Sling, where would the OTT movement be. Because of Sling, others have stepped forward. You are confident they will not make changes to their content, this is flawed. Somebody has to take the first step, and you just want everything to be perfect immediately. You have options now, you never had, this is very relevant don’t you think?

    • danrayburn

      Sling TV is not responsible for any kind of OTT “movement”. Lets give the credit to Netflix, Amazon, and others who have signed up a lot of subscribers and made their apps available on just about every device and platform imaginable. They deserve the credit.

      Who else has stepped forward, since Sling TV to offer a live OTT service? Sony’s PlayStation Vue service was already in production and roll out at the same time as Sling TV.

  • ArtND76

    I like the price of Sling, but practically nothing else. That said, the price is good enough to keep me off of Comcast. I watch it using a PC I have hooked up to a screen in the living room – which is also how I *used* to watch Comcast with a cablecard in that PC. The PC is running Windows 7, nothing special.

    The Windows application is buggy – to put it as kindly as possible. It loses audio to video sync about every 10 minutes. It freezes and requires restarting about every hour to two hours. When you restart you had better have noted before which show you were watching because it won’t remember that and when you do go to the show you were watching it won’t restart playing where it left off. Yes, you read that right, if it freezes 5 minutes before the end of an hour long show, you have to re-watch the first 55 minutes (and hope it doesn’t freeze again) to see that last 5 minutes. Infuriating.

    If the bugs I just mentioned ever get fixed, this service could be really popular; not only with a lot of viewers but with sponsors who won’t have their commercials ignored with fast forward.

    As for being force-fed commercials, if the subscription price is low enough to justify it I am okay with that.

    I can’t record shows on my local disk drive the way I could with Comcast, but Sling does retain availability for a long enough period for most shows. Some shows, however, we would like to be able to view several months later. With a locally recorded version we could do that. Sling doesn’t allow that, so we are stuck with whatever retention period they decide on.

    What I am not okay with is viewing software so buggy that it contributes significant frustration to what should be an enjoyable viewing experience.

    That said, I will continue to use Sling as long as it is the only service available for the price – I simply refuse to pay Comcast’s current unbundled prices. Since I have Comcast commercial internet into my house for my work, unbundled pricing for residential TV is all I am told by Comcast that I can get – so goodbye Comcast TV.

  • juandl88

    Sorry Dan, for a blog heralding “streaming media”, you go old-school fast and tear down a new and viable alternative (to some, not all) and tout cable and dish as “Good” and Sling “Bad”. You are a carry-over of “old media” and you’re all too ready to declare new choices as Sling as DOA.

    I’ve had Sling since offered and have no problems and I will try anything that will let me cut the cable. I’m not the typical youger consumer as I rarely binge watch, see nothing that I need to dvr, let alone come back to and watch later, and since I get all my network needs thru OTA, the Sling offering of ESPN is all I need. As for not being able to pick and choose, forgive me but the only way you can oick and choose is to buy a big package of fluff and pick and choose a handful of watchable content. Just what cable/dish moguls want.

    I won’t characterize your article as a hit-piece, but don’t bury a cable alternative by touting it’s low subscription numbers. Who are you to declare what business model works or does not? If Sling is viable, we have a choice, if it isn’t, so be it and it vanishes. We as Sling subscribers have lost nothing but a choice and your dish/cable army has won.

  • philsmith303@gmail.com

    If Sling TV decides to get ride of Sling TV… I would NEVER go back to big cable. I still have OTA TV with GREAT TV (over 70 stations by me- with over 25 that I watch), a roku device that gets endless watchable media.
    I hope this is the END of MEGA Cable!!!!!

  • James Childress

    They need to separate the Spanish and ESPN from the service. This is part of the complaints cable TV subscribers have about Cable TV, subsidizing under performing channels they would never watch. ESPN should be premium like HBO if they want to survive. To make matters worse, their app doesn’t allow customization as to what channels are shown like you can do with cable/satellite boxes. Spanish language stations being included are fine and all, but should not be marketed to all subscribers since most Americans do not speak it despite the influx of immigration from the south. There there is the issue of popular channels like Discovery absent from any of their packages. I really want to use their service, but right now it is still cheaper for me to add cable TV to my internet subscription and I get all the channels I want.

  • Streamer

    Sling is great. I signed up two months ago and have loved it. It has MSNBC now (for $5 more, which I’m happy to pay…plus they throw in like 5 other news channels, including CNN)…it’s quality is top notch. Not a lot of glitches or anything that is frustrating. And I can only see it getting better and better. That is, without unfair articles like this one holding people back. There are so many untruths. First, his 5 hours per day leads to 230 gigs a month. Yeah, on one device. But I always have Sling going on 3 devices at once. I don’t know if they changed the rules or what, but Sling is on 3 tvs in my house every day AT THE SAME TIME. Now that 230 gigs shrinks up. My tvs are on Sling probably an average of 8 hours a day (x3 is way way over the 300 gigs). So I hope those caps don’t happen, that would seriously put the value in question if my local ISP started upping my internet bill. Then the article starts saying it’s a niche market, etc etc. I don’t see it. It has all the major stations. I’m paying $25/month and I get TBS, TNT, MSNBC, FX (& FX on demand), USA, NBCSports on Demand, several local sports (I never miss a Royals game now), AMC, Tru, SyFy, Comedy Central, BET, A&E, History, BBC America, IFC, Bravo, Food Network, Travel, National Geographic (plus NatGeo Wild which I love because it has Cesar Milan’s Rescue 911), etc. Plus a bunch of others (most are also very cool, I just wasn’t familiar with them, like the news channel France24…very cool. I know I sound like a rep, which I’m not, but I REALLY want fair articles because this service is awesome for streamers like me. And if it fails it will partly be due to unfair articles like this one. Every streamer out there should get it and try it. At most, you’ll be out $25. And I think they pretty much always give 2 weeks free for new subs. Maybe it sucked at first, but now it kicks butt…I love it.