Why Sling TV multi-stream plans are missing ESPN and Disney (for now)

Last week, Sling TV answered users’ calls for multiple stream support, with a separate $20 per month plan that allows viewing on up to three devices at once. But while this plan adds a few new channels to the mix, including Fox, FX, and Fox Sports, it lacks the ESPN and Disney channels found in Sling’s single-stream package.

In an earnings call this week, Sling TV owner Dish Network explained why those channels are missing.

One sticking point The ability to pause and rewind live channels, and to view all programming from the past few days. In Sling’s single-stream plan, only about half the channels support time-shifting and “Lookback” functionality, and Disney-owned channels aren’t among them.

Dish CEO Charlie Ergen lamented the lack of consistency during the earnings call, and said he’d do things differently in hindsight.

“With multi-stream, everybody that is in multi-stream, we just made the strategic decision that we have to get a consistent product to our consumers,” Ergen said. “That’s something that Disney is evaluating as to those standards and making sure they are comfortable with those.”

(It’s worth noting that except for National Geographic, none of the Fox-owned channels in the multi-stream bundle support time-shifting either, but a Sling representative recently told me the company will roll out this feature to other channels in the near future.)

The cost of including ESPN and Disney in the multi-stream bundle is also an issue. Ergen suggested that this plan may cost more than $20 per month if those channels are included. “But we’re desirous of putting ESPN in multi-stream which will drive the price of multi-stream up,” Ergen said.

Disney-owned channels aside, Sling TV is planning to further expand its channel lineup. On Thursday, Dish and Viacom signed a deal that will bring some Viacom channels to Sling’s single- and multi-stream plans, including Comedy Central, BET, Spike, MTV, and Nick Jr. These channels, along with the Fox-owned additions in the multi-stream plan, should help bring Sling TV more in line with Sony’s rival PlayStation Vue service.

Viacom channels will launch in the “coming months,” though it’s unclear which ones will be part of the core $20 per month bundles, and which will live inside Sling’s $5 per month add-on packages.

Why this matters: Sling TV clearly wants to offer as many channels as it can to subscribers, but doing so is tricky, as some TV networks have particular demands about concurrent streams, time-shifting, and bundling. All of this makes for a tricky balancing act as Sling tries to maintain its $20 per month pricing, and remain a more flexible alternative to bloated cable TV bundles.


Jared Newman

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