Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Dish Gives Sling a Makeover to Compete With Hulu and Netflix

  • New look to streaming service highlights shows, not channels
  • Dish unveils Hopper DVR that can record 16 shows at same time

Dish Network Corp., taking cues from popular online video services like Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., is making over its Sling TV application, greeting users with popular shows rather than channels to appeal to their on-demand viewing preferences.

Dish is unveiling the refreshed interface for its 23-channel, $20-a-month Sling TV streaming service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the product’s introduction. As part of the new look, Dish will include “on now,” a selection of live shows and sports, as well as show recommendations based on users’ viewing habits.

“We wanted something more like Spotify rather than Comcast,” Sling TV Chief Executive Officer Roger Lynch said in an interview, referring to the music streaming service and the cable provider.

The revamp aims to invigorate viewer interest in Sling TV amid a growing roster of online video services, including forthcoming offers from Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. Dish doesn’t disclose its Sling subscriber count, though Macquarie Capital USA Inc. analyst Amy Yong estimated it at about 500,000, according to a report in mid-December. Market researcher Parks Associates lists it as the 10th largest by subscribers among online video services.

Still, Sling has helped offset Dish’s satellite-TV subscriber losses, according to analyst Craig Moffett at MoffettNathanson LLC. Like other big pay-TV providers, Dish faces the challenge of losing customers and revenue as more people move from big program packages to alternatives like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu LLC.

Sling TV features channels -- like Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, Time Warner Inc.’s TNT and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.’s Food Network -- are designed to attract viewers that don’t subscribe to conventional pay-TV packages, as well as those who want to disconnect their cable, the so-called cord-nevers and cord-cutters.

Separately, Dish introduced two new devices at CES. One is the $15-a-month Hopper 3 set-top box that is capable of playing ultra high-definition 4K video and has a 2-terabyte hard drive and the capacity to record as many as 16 shows simultaneously. The other gadget is the HopperGO, a $99 portable storage device for recorded programs that can be connected to mobile phones and tablets for playback.

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