Back in January, Sling TV launched with some problems. Foremost among them, a selection of channels more conducive to daytime TV lounging than anything else, and hardly a justification for its $20-a-month subscription fee. But in the months that followed, Sling TV — through parent company Dish — bulked up, inking a string of content deals with the likes of ESPN, AMC, TNT, and CNN. Today, it announced its biggest yet: HBO.
Sling TV's deal with HBO comes ahead of the upcoming premiere of Game of Thrones and — for $15 per month on top of a baseline monthly subscription fee of $20 — offers access to HBO's live programming as well as "the same extensive VOD library HBO provides on its other platforms," according to a company press release. Its announcement comes on the heels of Apple's exclusive, three-month deal to bring HBO's HBO Now stand-alone streaming service to its devices.
Apple's deal with HBO involves a similar $15-per-month fee, indicating that HBO sees this as an either-or proposition. Now that it's committed to embracing cord-cutters, HBO wants to appeal to as many of them as possible — regardless of platform.
Given streaming's growing popularity, the value of live TV becomes tougher to gauge. On the one hand, viewers still enjoy watching things at the same time — Twitter eruptions over the latest episodes of popular shows attest to that. On the other hand, the freedom to watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it — and in bulk — has become habit-forming in the Netflix age. HBO, with its slate of must-watch programming, is increasingly becoming table stakes in the battle for cord-cutter mindshare — regardless of whether its shows are viewed live or on demand.
In that sense, landing HBO — ahead of the premiere of the latest season of its most popular shows — is a coup for Sling TV. That said, its pricing structure of $20 initial, with additional charges for extra channels like HBO, might still seem steep to customers unused to paying more than $10 a month to stream anything. Still, Sling's offerings are now nearly robust enough to compete with normal cable packages, which, according to the FCC, average about $66 per month.