April 3, 2015 2:00 PM PT
A cord cutter’s report on Sling TV
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
We cut the cord years ago—where we live, over the air signals are good enough for the broadcast networks, and combining Netflix & Hulu Plus gave us more than enough viewing options. Even subscribing to both of those, we cut our TV bill by a little more than 80 percent. Throw in Amazon Prime, and we’re still saving money month to month.
But I was curious about Sling TV, the Internet-delivered TV service. There were a few cable channels we missed from the cable days, including Food Network.1 Their basic package—the “best of live TV,” as they call it—includes Food Network, CNN, ESPN, TBS, TNT, Disney, AMC, and a few more. That’s the $20 level. For a few dollars more—$5 per package—you can add more sports channels, more lifestyle channels, and/or international news channels. It’s part of Dish, but separate and distinct at least in terms of branding. No doubt this helps with signing channels onto the service. (And now HBO will also be available there, albeit for an extra $15 on top of your regular Sling package.)
Those who exclusively patronize Apple TV will be sad to hear that Sling isn’t available there (yet). But I also use an Amazon Fire Stick, largely for watching Sling2.
One thing I really like about Sling: Say you put on Food Network and they’re in the middle of wall-to-wall Fieri3. You can scroll backward through the schedule and watch several days’ worth of shows on demand, or time shift the entire schedule, pretend you’re on Pacific time, whatever.
So adding that $20 on top of Netflix and Hulu, we’re still paying less than half of what we had been for cable or satellite. We’re still paying for channels we don’t watch—we pretty much stick to Food Network and Cartoon Network over here, maybe ESPN during baseball season—but we have some flexibility, good on-demand options, and availability across multiple devices, even watching live. It’s still not quite “a la carte TV,” but considering the economics of cable, it’s not bad.
The one thing I wish Sling could do would be to offer a little more variety. For example, there are several Time Warner channels available4, but not the one I used to watch most, Turner Classic Movies. What if we had the option to choose three Time Warner channels from the available menu? TCM does have an iOS app, but like most such apps, it only works if you’re already a cable or satellite subscriber. Even then, it doesn’t AirPlay nicely to the Apple TV—it’s easier to watch directly on an iPad. (Heck, I’d pay a monthly fee just for a TCM app that I could use AND AirPlay.)
Of course, if I could slim down that “best of live TV” package, I would. In six weeks of using Sling, the bulk of our viewing has been Food Network with a side of “Better Call Saul” on AMC and a little bit of Cartoon Network for the 10-year-old. But that’s the dream of “a la carte.” That’s why the HBO news gives me hope.
I doubt we’ll be getting HBO—we don’t really care about “Game of Thrones”5 so we’ll pass. I can’t help but wonder if this and the Apple TV deal have something to do with the announcement that HBO and Vice were expanding their partnership to the point of developing a daily newscast… that might be worth watching.
So we’ll stick with Sling for now and see how it evolves.
Now, to get a TV with two HDMI ports…
[David J. Loehr is a writer and designer who lives in the wilds of Indiana. He’s the writer of The Incomparable Radio Theater, coming later this year to a podcast-listening thing near you.]
- Oh, the cries of joy when the 13-year-old discovered a run of “Good Eats” episodes on Netflix. We watched all 25 of them in a single Sunday. He’s been an Alton Brown fan since he was 2 and thought Alton’s name was “Eats.” ↩
- It’s available on Roku, Amazon Fire, and Xbox, with Nexus Player “coming soon.” You can also watch via iOS and Android apps or even your computer. I’ve tried using AirPlay to send it to my Apple TV, but it’s just easier to use the Fire Stick. Plus, it’s fun to say Fire Stick. ↩
- How many hours a week can they devote to “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives?” And then there’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.” Man’s got a thing for alliteration. ↩
- TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim… and soon HBO. ↩
- I can hear the wailing now. It’s no use, I’ve tried it, I’m good. ↩
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