Now that operators have accepted the fact that video viewing is not the couch-only activity it used to be, who has been making the greatest strides when it comes to allowing subscribers to watch what they want, when they want, on the devices they want?

Arguably, EchoStar (in conjunction with its Sling Media affiliate and its sister company, satellite video provider DISH Network) has been in the forefront of the “TV Everywhere” evolution. (Note: EchoStar and Dish became separate entities in 2008 when EchoStar Communications Corp. changed its name to Dish Network Corp., focusing on satellite television, and spun off EchoStar Corp. Today, EchoStar provides DISH with the technology it uses to provide satellite TV services.) Since 2007, it’s been selling or licensing its Slingbox hardware and software to operators (that sell, lease or just give the box to subscribers outright) and retail outlets alike, allowing users to watch all of their live and recorded television programs on compatible smartphones, tablets and laptops that run on Apple, Android (Google), Windows 7 and BlackBerry platforms.

The Sling Adapter (red box) works with DISH Network’s ViP 722 or 722k HD DVR to allow subscribers to view high-def or standard-def DISH programming (including live and recorded shows) on compatible mobile devices or laptops. The $99 device  is powered and operated through a USB connection for plug-and-play set-up.

From a purely research point of view, In-Stat notes that the market leaders in 2Q10 shipments of satellite set-top boxes were EchoStar, Humax, Pace and Technicolor. However, Marc Lumpkin, EchoStar’s director/Corporate Communications, says, “We’re the only one to enable live TV or DVR content on other devices.”

According to Lumpkin, EchoStar’s primary focus right now is to provide DISH with the satellite and Slingbox equipment, although the company is in lab tests with other U.S. cable providers and telcos; it also sells Sling-enabled gear and other set-top boxes to European customers. The company, however, will not release any Slingbox sales numbers, nor will DISH.

“What we offer U.S. MSOs are set-top boxes, combined Sling/set-top boxes, the Slingbox and Sling adapters,” Lumpkin explains. “And DISH has waited for this year to really start marketing Sling technology to its customers.”

The DISH Rollout

DISH Network ran that play just a little early, however. In December 2010, in the midst of the holiday selling season, it claimed to be “the first pay-TV provider in America to introduce a true TV Everywhere offering, giving DISH Network subscribers the ability to watch all of their live and recorded television programs on compatible smartphones, tablets and laptops.” And what made that happen was a number of new applications developed to work with Sling technology, for example the free DISH Remote Access app that works in concert with the broadband-connected Sling-enabled receiver.

On the technical side, DISH Remote Access is powered by SlingPlayer Mobile technology for support of 3G and Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

To make TV accessible away from the living room, DISH customers must use the Sling Adapter – a small “placeshifting” device costing $99 that pairs with DISH Network’s ViP 722 or 722k HD DVRs. With these two devices hooked together and with downloadable mobile apps (such as the DISH Remote Access app for the iPad, which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store), subscribers can watch live TV programming from all subscribed channels, they can watch all DVR recordings, they can manage the recording and deletion of shows, and they can use a mobile device as a remote control.

The road to TV Everywhere has been a tiered process for DISH, which started with the ViP boxes and then added mobile apps and now the adapter.

“The Sling adapter for the iPad is our way of bringing Sling technology to the masses,” says Francie Bauer, director/Corporate Communications at DISH. While Sling originally resonated with “the younger techie groups” when DISH first introduced it, Bauer says “everyone wants it now.” The cheapest way of getting into the Sling swing is via the Sling adapter, and the operator now has technical partnerships with Google TV and with Logitech for an even-more-robust customer experience.

— Debra Baker

The Daily

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