Exclusive: An Interview with Sling TV Group President Warren Schlichting

Since 2015, Sling TV has been cutting cords, not corners. The Dish-owned platform was the first live over-the-top streaming service to market, and while other big-name players have put forth offerings like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, DIRECTV Now, and PlayStation Vue, Sling TV has been able to stay ahead of the curve by staying true to – and innovating within – its initial mission: enabling consumers to “take back TV.”  By creating different sizes of bundles, building out a robust demand library, integrating free over the air channels, showing what a streaming cloud DVR could be, and continually enhancing its user interface, Sling TV has been able to attract 2.47 million subscribers and is still growing. The importance of growing this subscriber base cannot be understated, especially now that media buyers and direct to consumer brands are paying serious attention to addressable TV advertising.

For more on Sling TV, its consumer-first strategy, and how it is setting the cord-cutting standard, we spoke with Group President Warren Schlichting:

Found Remote: Sling TV accelerated the cord-cutting trend with innovative packages and strong price points. How are you continuing to innovate?

Warren Schlichting: Sling is the pioneer of live streaming TV. In 2015, we created a brand new television category by launching the very first live OTT service. And since then, we’ve introduced many more industry firsts – including debuting pay-per-view events, launching on virtual reality devices like Oculus Go, and offering the ability to protect and save DVR recordings.

As new entrants have joined the OTT space over the last few years, Sling has successfully maintained its position as America’s #1 live TV streaming service. Why? Because we continue to make innovative enhancements to our unique model – all while remaining a true skinny bundle that offers our customers unparalleled choice and flexibility.

For instance, last year, we opened up a free Sling experience to customers on Roku devices. This experience gives Roku users the opportunity to watch over a thousand on-demands titles, refreshed on a regular basis, with no strings attached.

We’ve also considerably bolstered our programming library with a la carte channels and on-demand titles, available without a base subscription. Most people know Sling as a live streaming service, and we certainly are, but we also offer more than100,000 on-demand titles. We’ve grown this number significantly in only a few short years; during our first year of service in 2015, our on-demand library sat at roughly 12,000 titles.

FR: If exclusivity with major networks is unlikely, why is Sling TV still the best option for cord cutters?

Schlichting: Sling is the best option for cord cutters because we provide customers the ability to customize their TV watching experience at an unbeatable value. Our staff is completely focused on providing the best streaming experience possible, and we’re proud of our incredibly reliable service.

All of our biggest competitors offer OTT services that are problematic to consumers for a number of reasons. The biggest of which is the simple fact that most OTT business models essentially replicate cable’s expensive “big, bigger, biggest” bundles that are bloated with channels you don’t want.

At Sling, we have a consumer-first strategy. We make business decisions based on what’s best for the customer, which is why we’re the closest to “a la carte” that consumers can get in a streaming service—we even offer channels like Showtime and NBA League Pass without a base subscription. It’s also why we don’t force customers to pay for local channels.

We know many of our customers prefer to get their locals for free via an over-the-air antenna, which is why we support OTA antenna usage to complement Sling’s offerings. And, through our AirTV devices, viewers can seamlessly view free local channels right alongside their Sling TV channels for an all-in-one experience.

FR: Brands finally have an appetite to spend big on over the top and TV everywhere platforms. What are you doing to innovate on the sales and advertising side to meet this demand and to stand out?

Schlichting: We’ve unlocked significant value with our industry-leading dynamic ad insertion (DAI), which is currently available on more than 90 linear channels.In 2018 alone, wetripled advertising revenue and delivered more than 1.3 billion cross-platform addressable impressions. DAI is a key contributor to our business model and allows us to deliver great value to customers.

FR: With more folks consuming video content on mobile devices, how do you make Sling TV a true platform-agnostic product?

Schlichting: Customers want to consume their TV content when they want it, where they want it and how they want it, so we provide access to Sling TV on all of their devices – from mobile devices and tablets to video gaming consoles, web browsers and even virtual reality headsets. Since Sling’s launch, we’ve rolled out our service to the latest and greatest platforms on a regular basis, with the most recent platform being Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets.

We are committed to creating a seamless experience across devices, whether you’re watching on your Apple TV at home or on your iPhone during your commute. We’ve continued to roll out user interface updates and features across all of our compatible platforms, making it easy for Sling TV customers to intuitively navigate the app, no matter which device they’re using.    

FR: Sling TV has always had one of the more friendly user interfaces. What are you doing on the UI and content recommendation side?

Schlichting: As we continue to break barriers in streaming, we’re focused on enhancing the Sling TV interface for an optimal user experience. We’ve launched a number of UI updates this year based on customer feedback to improve content discovery. Most recently, we rolled out improved search functionality, full-screen information view, and an updated player control layout on our app on Apple TV and Roku devices.

Regarding content recommendation, this year, we launched a “Recommended For You” ribbon on Sling’s “MyTV” tab on Apple TV and Roku devices, which features content for customers based on their viewing habits. We also recently added another ribbon called “Trending Live,” which features popular programming that other Slingers are tuning into at any given moment. Both of these ribbons provide excellent paths through which users can easily find must-watch television and reduce the friction and number of clicks it takes for Sling customers to find what they’re looking for.

Adam Flomenbaum

The new Found Remote