Not two years after Aereo’s business model was shot down by the Supreme Court, another, slightly different attempt at pushing local TV onto the Internet for streaming could be coming from a partnership between Dish Network’s SlingTV and EchoStar’s Sling Media.On Friday, from a source indicating that Sling Media would be pushing out what is essentially a set-top box that would help Sling TV subscribers watch local TV from the Sling TV app. If that’s not confusing enough, the box will apparently be called AirTV, per an Zatz reported on last year.
As a result, customers of Sling TV will be able to buy an AirTV box that will look very similar to Sling Media’s M1 Slingbox, which will connect to your home antenna and your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to push local channels to your mobile device or browser. “I’ll go ahead and assume the ultimate goal here is for the OTA channels from one’s residence to be co-located amongst the pay television channels of Sling TV’s $20 streaming service in a unified guide,” Zatz wrote.
Sling TV launched last year with a pared-down assortment of cable channels that users pay a monthly fee for—like standard pay-TV but over the Internet and with fewer filler channels. Marketing the product to cord-cutters, Sling TV created accessory bundles that customers could buy on top of the basic subscription if they needed more sports or entertainment news. Just this week, Sling TV announced that for an extra $20 a month, customers could stream channels to three devices simultaneously and would get Fox Sports, FX, and National Geographic channels.
Sling TV casually mentioned in the same announcement that customers in select markets would have access to Fox local broadcast channels—perhaps a sign of what’s to come.
Sling TV did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.
Supporting the information given to him by his source, Zatz also notes that updates to the code for Sling TV’s iPhone and Android apps carry mention of “AirTV” and that "Sling Media owns airtv.net and their VP of marketing set up a Twitter account under @airtvus."
Sling TV has largely had success in bringing together a decent roster of cable TV channels for streaming. But national networks with myriad local affiliates make it difficult for a company like Sling TV to carry those channels—especially if any time-shifting is going to occur on the user’s end. Those affiliates need ad dollars from the local used car dealer and local carpet installer, after all.
That was part of the problem with Aereo, too. The streaming service pushed local, free TV from the airwaves to the Internet for users to stream, keeping an antenna for every customer in a warehouse to get around accusations that the service was improperly distributing local networks’ content. Ultimately, however, the Supreme Court did decide that Aereo was violating copyright rules, writing in its decision, "these behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly.”
If AirTV comes to pass, it promises to be less behind-the-scenes but also probably less intuitive for customers than Aereo was. As Zatz writes, "Unlike Aereo, ingesting the locals requires good HDTV reception at home and some technical know-how—as with all prior Slingbox solutions, there’s a certain amount of complexity. The challenge will be educating consumers as to AirTV’s value while overcoming installation and home bandwidth challenges.”