TV Answer Man, I saw your tweet about Sling TV losing subscribers and I wonder why. I use it and like it a lot for the price. Why aren’t they getting more subscribers? — Teresa, Boulder, Colorado.
Teresa, you’re right. Dish, which owns the live streaming service, reported last week that Sling TV lost a net of 100,000 subscribers in the first quarter. That left Sling with 2.37 million subscribers at the end of March.
The defections raised some industry eyebrows considering that live streaming is supposed to be a growth category with cord-cutting on the rise. At $35 a month, Sling is considerably cheaper than cable and satellite, and even other live streamers such as FuboTV, YouTube TV and Hulu Live, all of which start at $64.99 a month. (AT&T TV’s base price is $69.99 a month.)
But although Sling was the first live streaming service in the market (launching in January 2015), the venture has sputtered despite some early successes. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has even lamented publicly that Sling TV should have a bigger market share by now. (Hulu Live and YouTube TV both have roughly four million subscribers, although they launched a year or two after Sling.)
So why is Sling TV losing subscribers rather than gaining them?
1. Price Increase
Sling in January raised its base price for new customers from $30 a month to $35 a month.
Existing customers will not see a price increase until August 1, 2021 at the earliest (Sling TV last year implemented a one-year price freeze for current subscribers), but the hike likely caused some new customers to hesitate before signing up. If Sling raises prices on existing subscribers in late summer, it could generate more losses.
2. Sling TV Ends Free Trials
Sling in March also removed its 3-day free trial at its web site, another move that likely eliminated some new customer business. Cost-cutters have become accustomed to using free trials to check out a service before subscribing.
3. Channel Omissions
Sling is still not carrying several popular channels due to company cost-cutting, most notably the regional sports channels. (Ergen has repeatedly said the regional sports nets are asking for too much money.) This allows the service to keep its monthly price lower, but it’s clearly coming at a cost.
4. Live Streaming Could Be Fading
Live streaming was an instant success in the first few years thanks to eye-popping low monthly prices. (Sling was just $20 a month in the early days while DIRECTV Now, now called AT&T TV, was just $10 a month for the first three months.) But the escalating cost of program acquisition has forced the streamers to significantly raise their prices, and jettison some channels considered too costly to carry, such as regional sports. Consumer infatuation with live streaming could be fading.
With Dish in charge, and still carrying a reasonable monthly base price, Sling TV can regain its momentum. But it might take a greater investment in programming and technology than Dish might want to take.
Teresa, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann