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Home » Can Sling TV Freestream turn the vMVPD’s fortunes?nScreenMedia

Can Sling TV Freestream turn the vMVPD’s fortunes?nScreenMedia

Sling TV is looking to Freestream to bring growth as its core vMVPD business continues to decline. With the addition of local TV and recording to Freestream, it could be on to a winner.

Sling continues investment in Freestream

Number of FAST channels in top US FAST services Q1 2024Sling TV recognized the opportunity for a free tier of service way before the FAST industry received its striking name. The service added a small selection of free ad-supported content in 2018. It doubled down on the approach in 2020 when then service head Warren Schlichting introduced Stay in & Sling. He and his team added a raft of free channels and content to give people something free to watch while they were stuck inside due to COVID lockdowns.

The company renamed the service Freestream in early 2023 when it had 150 channels and has aggressively grown the offering since. Last week, it added four more channels – Crime Files, Power Nation, The Grio, and FilmRise’s America’s Dumbest Criminals – after adding 17 channels in December. It now offers more than 430 channels and 44,000 on-demand movies and TV shows, keeping pace with other top FAST services, including Roku Channel, Plex, and Pluto TV.

Continued investment in Freestream is a solid strategy for Sling. It allows the company to participate in a market that has seen spectacular growth over the last two years while its core market has stagnated. According to TiVo’s Video Trend Reports, free services grew their share of TV viewing time from 10% in Q4 2021 to 28% in Q2 2023.

Sling TV has stagnated while others have grown

Sling TV Hulu+Live Fubo subs 2018-2023 smallGrowth in the vMVPD market has slowed dramatically over the last few years. For example, in 2018, the industry saw the number of subscribers almost double, while in 2022, it grew by a more modest 12%. The slowing growth in the vMVPD market is reason enough to jump into the FAST market. However, while services like fubo and Hulu+Live continue to grow, Sling TV is shrinking. Between 2018 and 2023, Sling TV has seen subscribers decline from 2.4 million to 2.1 million.

Why are Sling TV subscribers in decline while others continue to grow? The lack of local TV channels is likely to blame. At launch, Sling executives excluded local TV channels to keep subscription fees low. Instead, it invested in technology, allowing users to leverage a home antenna to integrate local TV into the experience. It appears the convenience of including locals – which Fubo and Hulu+Live do – wins out over a lower price with an antenna.

Freestream should follow the lead of Tablo TV

Including lots of free content in Freestream goes some way to making up for the lack of local TV channels in the Sling experience. However, the company should go further by following E.W. Scripps’ lead.

In September 2023, E.W. Scripps released the fourth generation of its over-the-air (OTA) DVR, Tablo TV. The device leverages an antenna to acquire local TV channels and distributes them around the home via the home Wi-Fi network and apps running on popular CTV devices. Tablo also includes 40 FAST channels, which are blended seamlessly into the guide and allow users to record local TV and FAST channels for later viewing.

Sling has everything in place to copy Tablo’s blended over-the-air/FAST channel experience. It should allow antenna users to integrate local TV channels into the Freestream guide and allow them to record OTA and FAST channel content for later viewing.

Is offering a free tier of service a good strategy?

It is not clear how well Freestream is doing in the FAST market. Dish Network hasn’t reported on its progress, and I have not seen survey data indicating how many people are using it. That said, the rapid growth of the FAST market suggests the strategy is solid. And if the company can expand Freestream functionality by adding antenna TV and recording into the experience, it could be a real differentiator with viewers.



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