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Interview: Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch on snagging HBO, competing with Apple, and the future of TV

Earlier this year Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch took the stage at CES 2015 to unveil Sling TV, an exciting new streaming service from DISH. At the time we were blown away, and several months later the company continues to impress us.

We had a chance to talk to Lynch ahead of the Northside Festival in Brooklyn next month, where he’s giving a talk focused on the rapidly changing state of TV.

You can read the full interview below, which dives into future plans for Sling TV, how the company managed to score a deal with HBO, potential competition from Apple and more.

Jacob Kleinman: Is there any chance of Sling TV a la carte selections coming? It’s currently still in packages and feels a bit too much like cable.

Roger Lynch: I know consumers would love to do that, and frankly we’d be happy to do it that way. But the channel owners don’t really like the a la carte model. Unless you’re someone like HBO, where you have a real premium service and can charge $15 a month, the economics don’t work. Most channels have to rely on being part of a bundle. They make most of their revenue from advertising, and if they were to go a la carte they’d have far fewer people willing to pay for their channels at all.

JK: How many channels do you see adding over the next 12 months? Any plans for new bundles?

RL: We launched several new ones this month with Latino sports and Latino movies and TV novellas. That’s going to continue to be a focus of ours. It enables us to keep a low price for the basic package and still have lots of content to offer. We’re certainly not done in that space yet. We may also add channels to existing packages.

JK: Grabbing HBO was a major coup for what was supposed to be an Apple TV exclusive. How did you pull that off?

RL: I realize that was a surprise to people. We were fortunate that our DISH deal with HBO was renewing at that time. It enabled us to negotiate for the over the top streaming rights. Even if it’s not officially HBO NOW, it’s everything that’s on HBO NOW plus their live content.

JK: Any progress in getting onto Apple TV?

RL: Nothing we have to comment on right now. Obviously we just launched on Android TV, and we plan to continue to roll out on more devices.

JK: Are you worried about rumors that Apple could launch its own Sling TV competitor?

RL: We’ve always expected that we would see competition from the nontraditional paid TV companies. I’m not surprised by it. But generally when you have a new market, and new entrants come in, it helps grow the market even faster. It will probably help us, at least at first.

Sling-TV-Best of CES-2015

JK: Is Sling TV an experiment, or can you guarantee that it will be around for the long haul?

RL: I don’t know why anyone would be concerned about that. We spent years getting ready for this and developing it, and we’re been very pleased with the results. It’s the beginning of a pretty significant change for the industry. We’re certainly not treating it as an experiment.

JK: Sling TV reportedly hit 100 thousand subscribers in under a month. Can you talk about more recent subscription figures? Are you satisfied with the numbers so far?

RL: We never confirmed 100 thousand, that’s just speculation. We’ve been very encouraged by the uptake, and it’s definitely still growing. Hopefully it will be that way for many many years.

JK: You’ve expressed concern about the now dead Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal in the past. How do you feel about the FCC’s decision? What are your thoughts on where the cable/Internet provider industry is headed?

RL: We’re pleased to see that merger is not going through. We think it was anti-competitive, a threat to over-the-top content, and not good for consumers. First and foremost, we’re very pleased to see that outcome. Issues like Title II and net neutrality are going to be debated for a while. We’re equally concerned about that because for innovation we need a fair and open Internet. If ISPs become gatekeepers for what you can stream that will thwart competition.

JK: Don’t you think Sling TV could potentially benefit from that scenario if its parent company DISH becomes an Internet gatekeeper?

RL: It’s just not in our nature. If you think about over the top video today, the first over the top was satellite. Cable companies had their little monopoly and then satellite came in over the top to disrupt. It’s not in our DNA. We don’t think that way because we were never an incumbent or a monopoly within any given market.

JK: What have you learned since launching? What’s working and what’s not working?

RL: I’d say the main thing we have learned is that there’s certainly a robust market for a service like this. Our goal was not to replicate a paid TV model. That’s frankly a saturated market. We wanted to go after the growth market: streaming. We’ve been successful in hitting that market

JK: Can you give me a preview of your presentation next month at the Northside Festival?

RL: Sling TV’s still a new service, so I’ll really be talking about how innovation like ours is changing the paid TV landscape. I’ll use Sling TV as an example of how technology is enabling a whole industry to change.

JK: Is Brooklyn a target audience? How is the company appealing to young professionals and families?

RL: That’s exactly our demographic. Although I think Sling has pretty broad appeal, we know that in urban markets with lots of young tech savvy professionals that’s where we’ll probably do the best with our service.

JK: What do you hope to learn from the other speakers at Northside Innovation?

RL: I haven’t even looked at the rest of the schedule yet, that’s on my to-do list. I’m definitely going to try to spend some time to see other things while I’m there. Hey, Neelie Kroes is speaking!

TechnoBuffalo will be attending the Northside Festival’s Innovation conference next month so stay tuned for coverage from Roger Lynch’s presentation and plenty more. You can also head to Northside’s website now to check out the full list of speakers, music and film, or order your tickets online.

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