Internet television service Sling TV, which has been pitching itself as a cheaper alternative to cable in the United States, announced today that it will soon offer a version of HBO as a $15-a-month addition to its basic $20 package.
Crucially, Sling said it will launch before the April 12 premiere of Game of Thrones, which means it will coincide with Apple’s very similar, high-profile HBO offering. The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that the new deal is part of a broader agreement between Dish Network, which owns Sling TV, and HBO parent company Time Warner.
“The new offering includes one live channel and the same extensive VOD [video-on-demand] library HBO provides on its other platforms,” Sling’s press release said. That makes it nearly identical to HBO’s upcoming standalone internet service HBO Now, but not quite the same: HBO Now will also host a Vice News channel and could potentially add other channels in the future. But for the majority of consumers, the difference between the two is negligible.
Apple had touted that it will be the exclusive internet-only distributor of HBO Now for the first three months after it launches. That’s still technically true. But since Sling TV’s HBO channel is not exactly HBO Now, and won’t bear that name, HBO is able to provide a very similar product to customers at the same time via two different internet distributors.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, as part of the deal, Dish does have the right to offer HBO Now, as well, but likely can’t do so until Apple’s window of exclusivity expires. If that does occur, it’s unclear if HBO Now will replace the existing HBO channel on Sling TV or be in addition to it.
Confused? This is one reason why HBO’s branding strategy may end up backfiring: It has a plethora of live television channels (HBO, HBO2, HBO Signature, etc.), a streaming service for live television subscribers called HBO Go, and a forthcoming internet-only service called HBO Now. The content is very similar across all of them.
The $15 price tag for Sling TV’s HBO channel is the same as HBO Now will cost through Apple. It’s $10 more than the premium movie channel Epix’s Sling add-on. Sling is looking increasingly more competitive by the day: You can get a range of channels, including ESPN, AMC, TNT, CNN, and now HBO for $35 a month. Sling attracted over 100,000 subscribers in its first month, and that number will surely rise now that it will offer the best pay TV channel in the country.