News & Analysis
Sling TV had 1.3 million paying subscribers at the end of the first quarter, according to streaming industry analyst Dan Rayburn, who cites anonymous Wall Street analysts for his report.

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Considering that Sling TV launched more than two years ago, reaching 1.3 million subscribers is not particularly impressive. DIRECTV Now, which launched last November 30, generated more than 200,000 paying subscribers in its first month, according to AT&T, although the service’s 2017 first quarter may not have seen similar growth.

Rayburn, who writes for the blog, has been an occasional skeptic of the financial viability of live streaming services. The analyst adds that he expects there will only be three million subscribers to live streaming services by year’s end, although the category is overflowing with participants, including Sling, DIRECTV Now, Google’s YouTube TV, Layer3, Sony’s PlayStationVue and, coming soon, Hulu.

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“So for all those estimates some are putting out on the growth of live TV services, they aren’t realistic,” Rayburn writes. “Even YouTube and Hulu’s own internal estimates, come nowhere close to what many are predicting. And that’s from the companies that run the services and have a better insight into their customers than anyone else.”

While several major companies see live streaming as the future, consumers thus far seem to see it as no more than a mediocre alternative to the traditional pay TV service from cable and satellite. Why? Many reasons, but chiefly, live streaming continues to be haunted by frequent technical failures and programming gaps such as a lack of local channels.

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If Rayburn is right, and live streaming subs do not grow more rapidly, it won’t be long before a few of the current players will drop out due to growing financial losses.

— Phillip Swann