I had the opportunity to speak with Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian last week. His company has gained a lot of attention during the past couple of months for its planned introduction of SlingPlayer Mobile, an expansion of the company's flagship Slingbox technology that allows consumers to watch their home TV on handheld devices without buying video service from operators. The media and bloggers are making noise about the fact that operators might not allow the technology since it's a threat to their own mobile TV subscription plans. But Krikorian says the company is on track for a first-quarter introduction of SlingPlayer Mobile software on Windows Mobile devices.
"I'm watching TV on my Palm 700 on Verizon right now, and it didn't call up Mr. Seidenberg," he jokes. "We don't require the cooperation and approval of telcos to actually release this. It's all a lot of utter nonsense."
Of course that means users run afoul of their draconian subscriber agreements. Under Verizon's and Cingular Wireless' user agreements, for instance, customers can't upload, download or stream movies, music or games and a host of other data-hogging services. Many users simply ignore some of these restrictions, and that's if they even know about them. As FierceWireless noted before, operators can't really enforce some of their own restrictions because they don't have the knowledge of what the data is since they only see traffic.
Still, Krikorian says he is in talks with a number of operators worldwide, but couldn't give any more detail beyond that. "I view this product as totally additive," he says. For one, it will drive the sales of devices and high-speed data plans, although operators would prefer to sell devices, high-speed data plans and subscriptions. Secondly, he says, SlingPlayer Mobile can fill in the programming gap, whether that is being complementary to the specialized tailored clips operators are providing or offering more channels to MediaFLO and DVB-H networks, which will be limited in the channels they offer. But in the same breath, Krikorian says he doesn't believe consumers are going to flock to specially tailored content. They just want the ability to watch the same programming they see in their living rooms, especially if they don't have to pay extra for it.
In the meantime, it's not like Sling Media is an immediate threat to operators since it will only be compatible with Windows Mobile devices, which make up a minuscule amount of the total devices out there. Krikorian says Sling Media is developing a plethora of clients for "many, many different platforms." Certainly we won't see any support for BREW, which has some strict policy restrictions from Verizon. Sling Media faces some bigger issues, such as whether it's violating copyright laws by moving TV signals onto different devices. Content providers won't get a dime for the transmissions. And sooner or later, Microsoft will likely include a remote viewing feature for Windows Mobile devices, although it is in a delicate position with its carrier customers and may have to tread carefully.
When it comes to the copyright issue, one major lawsuit puts the company under, says Danny Briere, CEO of telecom consulting firm TeleChoice. "It's been a great closet product because no one was focusing on it before, but now it has all sorts of issues that might keep the company from running." Krikorian says it hasn't seen a lawsuit yet. He read an article that Sling Media may be violating censorship laws in Singapore. "Now we're making governments mad. Telcos are bad enough," he jokes. "We just need to get out there and let everyone see that at the end of the day we are providing a great experience for consumers." - Lynnette