AirTV to Bring Cord Cutters Back to the Future

In case you missed it, satellite TV provider Dish Network has partnered up with Sling over the top internet delivery service and is now offering a third source of content, a Channel Master – an over the air (OTA) antenna-based hardware box complete with flat antenna. It’s a hybrid TV content delivery solution that seeks to get the cable subscribers off the wire and back into the future of over the air broadcast.

The official announcement was made by Dish back at CES 2017, and includes a single (no source switching) solution to complete TV content browsing. If well executed, it will address perhaps the single greatest objection to cord cutting, the loss of the simple convenience of channel surfing; you know, that mind numbing act of clicking from channel to channel in search of a satisfying “lean-back” TV viewing experience.

AirTVWe’ve seen the Dish / Sling TV collaboration since last year’s NAB event in the US, and hints of the OTA piece under the AirTV name became evident as early as late Q2-16, when teaser-ads with a “coming soon” hardware box showed up on Amazon and other web sites. Then on December 21, 2016 The Verge reported a new page on the Dish web site that probably went live before it should have and before full vetting was done by the company.

Now is up and running with complete package details that include:

  • Pre-loaded apps – AirTV Player includes Netflix, Sling TV and YouTube pre-installed for easy access to popular streaming content.
  • Google Play Store – Built on Android TV, AirTV Player provides access to thousands of shows, movies, apps and games through the Google Play Store.
  • Netflix integration – With the click of a button, a user can launch directly into their selected Netflix content within the Netflix app.
  • 4K compatible – AirTV Player can play 4K content, available on Netflix and other apps in the Google Play Store.
  • Wi-Fi compatible – AirTV Player connects to dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz) networks that use the 802.11ac/n/a/b/g standards.
  • Bluetooth voice remote – The AirTV remote controls the AirTV Player via Bluetooth and provides access to popular apps.

airtv2According to comments from Warren Schlichting, who serves as Dish Network’s executive VP and found on the Dish web site “Complementing the pay-TV experience, which includes the increasing adoption of streaming services like Sling TV… is good business and may drive a solution to the otherwise compounding problem of ever-rising retransmission consent fees for local TV. ” Currently, the traditional Dish package offers local channels for a $10/month fee according to my conversation with a Dish sales rep earlier today.

The new hybrid strategy may be working. Last week we reported in our Large Display Monitor (subscription required) In Q4 of 2016, Dish Network reported adding almost 700K new subscribers (694k), but remarkably, the company lost some 666K subscribers in that same time frame. And while that’s a net gain of just 28K sub’s for the latest quarter, it’s still making headway in a digital content era punctuated by cord cutting and the onslaught of the maturing generation of “cord-never’s” who opted for over the top delivery of all digital content, when and where they want to view it.

Total revenue for Dish hit $3.72B for the quarter, down over last years (2015) same period total of $3.78B, but it was net income that was in the black in 2016 at $343M versus a loss in 2015 Q4 figures of $125M. This resulted in $15.09B versus $15.07B in total revenue for those years respectively. Interestingly, Dish includes its Sling revenue in those numbers, with a total of 13.671 million pay-TV subscribers in 2016, down just a bit from the 2015 number of 13.897 million pay-TV subscribers. Both Dish Networks and Sling are subsidiaries of Echostar.

Since the dawn of the internet era, and digital content availability on line, pay TV providers have been looking for innovative ways to keep its subscribers, and reduce the dreaded “churn,” that is the loss of subs as their subscription “finally” ends. Meanwhile cord cutters have been looking for ways to enjoy the programming they’ve come to love but without that pesky bundled pricing that included 475 unwatched channels and only about 25 the family watch on a regular basis. Finally, an á-la-carte hybrid approach may be at hand. So just when you thought the battle over the remote was finally done, when you cut the cord – look again. A new TV service is in town, with a low cost back to the future TV viewing experience with all the joys and, yes, frustrations it can bring. – Steven Sechrist

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Analyst Comment

We have been reporting for some time on the chip company ViXS, which has been developing chips to support this kind of application, working with MaxLinear to develop sticks and boxes. ViXS has a new dual tuner version. (ViXS Expands Hybrid OTT/OTA Systems – subscription required) (BR)