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Sling TV closes year with 2.4 million subscribers, but growth slowed significantly

Sling TV’s growth has slowed dramatically as the competitive landscape for live TV streaming services has heated up. Despite this, the Dish -owned streaming service remains ahead of rivals in terms of subscriber count – largely due to it being first to market with streaming TV. Dish said today it closed out the year with 2.417 million Sling TV subscribers. That puts it ahead of AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which ended 2018 with 1.6 million subscribers.

It’s also more than newcomers like YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV. The latter topped 1 million subscribers this past fall. YouTube TV doesn’t report its numbers, but had an estimated 800,000 subscribers as of last July. It’s likely neck-and-neck with Hulu Live TV at this point.

Dish reported its Sling TV numbers as a part of its Q4 2018 earnings, which also indicated that Sling TV is nowhere near making up for the subscriber loss from Dish’s satellite TV service. The company lost 1.125 million satellite TV subscribers during its fiscal 2018, up from the 995,000 it lost the year prior.

Meanwhile, Dish added a net gain of 205,000 Sling TV subscribers in 2018. That’s down from the 711,000 added in 2017 and the 878,000 added in 2016.

The company closed out the quarter with 12.32 million total pay TV subscribers, including 9.90 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.42 million Sling TV subscribers, it said.

In addition to the increased competition from other streaming services and a price increase, Dish’s carriage disputes have also impacted Sling TV.

The company no longer carries Univision on Dish or Sling TV. Plus, HBO and Cinemax left Dish and Sling TV on October 31, due to a dispute with the premium networks’ new owner, AT&T.

The move to drop HBO and Cinemax had already taken its toll on Sling TV in Q3, when Dish reported a net add of only 26,000 new Sling TV subscribers for the quarter.

In the months since, Sling TV has been trying new tactics to attract customers – including rolling out free content to non-subscribers, offering a la carte subscriptions that don’t require a core programming package, and, most recently, launching personalized recommendations.

Unfortunately for Sling TV, these moves may not be enough. And things won’t get better in 2019 as a number of new streaming video services compete for customers’ dollars – like those from Time Warner, Apple, and Disney.

 

 

 

Epix launches a $6 per month streaming service offering 4K video and offline access

MGM-owned Epix is joining other premium networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz with the launch of its own over-the-top streaming service aimed at cord cutters. The service, called Epix Now, offers access to Epix’s original series and thousands of Hollywood movies and classic films for $5.99 per month, and supports offline viewing and 4K video, the company says.

Initially, Epix Now is available on Apple TV, iOS and Android devices, but Roku and Amazon Fire TV apps are arriving soon.

Epix has been working for some time to reposition its network to better compete in the streaming market.

Following MGM’s $1 billion acquisition of Epix in 2017, the company last year announced plans to enhance the service’s offerings with a variety of original series. MGM said by spring 2019, it aimed to have 50 to 60 hours of original scripted content, and 70 to 80 hours of scripted fare, in addition to its first-run theatrical and library film content, according to Deadline.

As of today’s launch of Epix Now, the network has been making good on those promises.

Its service now includes access to several new original shows, including: “Pennyworth,” the origin story of Batman’s butler, Alfred; “Godfather of Harlem,” starring Forest Whitaker; “Perpetual Grace, LTD.,” featuring Sir Ben Kingsley; the docu-series “PUNK” from Iggy Pop; and “Elvis Goes There,” with Elvis Mitchell.

Returning originals include “Get Shorty,” starring Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano; “Berlin Station,” starring Richard Armitage, Ashley Judd and Richard Jenkins; and “Deep State,” starring Mark Strong and Joe Dempsie.

Epix also features unscripted series and films like the late-night comedy docu-series “Unprotected Sets” from Wanda Sykes; Mark Burnett’s boxing competition “The Contender;” 2018 Sundance audience award-winner “This Is Home: A Refugee Story;” and sports documentary “Serena.”

Meanwhile, the network’s film library includes both new and classic movies, like “A Quiet Place,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Fences,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut, “Me Before You” and franchises like James Bond, Rocky, Mission Impossible and Star Trek.

On connected TV devices, Epix Now users can also stream all four Epix linear live channels, and on mobile, they can download content to watch offline.

This is not the first time that Epix has made its content available for streaming, however.

In addition to offering a way for authenticated pay TV customers to stream its shows and movies online, the company had also offered access through streaming TV services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, as an add-on.

In February, Epix said it would launch a standalone subscription service at some point in the future, but had declined to share a time frame for those plans.

Though new to the standalone streaming market, the company believes there’s plenty of room for growth as more consumers cut the cord with traditional pay TV.

For example, HBO had grown its streaming service to more than 5 million subscribers, as of last year. And CBS’s streaming properties, CBS All Access and Showtime, had grown to a combined more than 5 million subscribers as of that time, as well.

Epix additionally believes its support for 4K Ultra HD streaming will help differentiate it from others.

“2019 is poised to be an incredible year of growth for our network,” said Michael Wright, Epix president, in a statement. “Launching Epix Now and providing consumers nationwide with access to our premium original programming and blockbuster movies is an exciting moment for our company and solidifies our commitment to bring high-level storytelling to as many people as possible. We look forward to welcoming new audiences to our network,” he said.

T-Mobile plans to offer à la carte media subscriptions, but no TV ‘skinny bundle’

T-Mobile doesn’t want to compete with other carriers or teleco’s by developing its own “skinny bundle” of streaming TV channels, the company said today on its earnings call with investors, noting the market was already oversaturated on that front. Instead, the mobile operator’s strategy will focus on helping customers pick and choose which paid TV subscriptions they want to access — a move that very much sounds like T-Mobile is going the “Amazon Channels” route with its mobile streaming plans.

According to T-Mobile President Mike Sievert, today’s customers have a number of choices for streaming TV thanks to the massive expansion of OTT (over-the-top) services that are now available.

“It’s subscription-palooza out there. Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market,” he said. “They’re learning about that. They don’t have distribution networks like us; they don’t have access to the phone like we have.”

Instead, the exec explained that T-Mobile wants to help customers access paid subscriptions that already exist, by simplifying aspects of that process such as search, discovery and billing.

“We don’t have plans to develop an nth undifferentiated skinny bundle,” Sievert continued. “There are plenty of those. We think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription — and smaller pieces five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time,” he said, adding that T-Mobile would begin this work in 2019.

The cord cutting-focused news site The Streamable was first to report T-Mobile’s news.

T-Mobile’s announcement comes at a time when the carrier’s mobile TV plans have been more of a focus, as everyone is trying to figure out what the carrier is up to.

Recently, a Cheddar report said T-Mobile would be launching a free mobile TV service in the weeks ahead. But that turned out to be just a “snackable content app” for T-Mobile’s Metro brand, MetroPCS, and only on two phones to start.

T-Mobile’s decision to go with an Amazon Channels-like offering, where consumers build their own “skinny bundles” by mixing and matching paid subscriptions, is not an uncommon choice. This is the same direction that many in the industry are heading, as of late.

This week, for example, Viacom said it would add paid subscriptions to its newly acquired free TV service, Pluto TV. Roku recently rolled out paid subscriptions to its free TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. And Dish’s Sling TV last year launched à la carte paid subscriptions to premium networks, without requiring the core package subscription.

However, the mobile operators aren’t necessarily going that route. AT&T, for instance, has been leveraging its Time Warner acquisition to launch multiple streaming services. Meanwhile, Verizon (disclosure: TechCrunch parent) saw its some of its streaming TV ambitions dashed with go90’s failure last year.

As the over-the-top streaming TV market is still a sliver of the larger pay TV space, it still remains to be seen which strategies and services will ultimately win over consumers. But companies are placing their bets now, experimenting, and sometimes failing then starting again.

Separately, T-Mobile today discussed its Layer3 home TV service, which was expected to launch nationwide in late 2018. That service is now planned for the first half of 2019, the company said.