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Sling Media Slings Content to the Masses

By internet startup standards, Sling Media is moving at a leisurely pace, having been founded in 2004 and still not quite a household name. But from a consumer electronics company standpoint, the company is experiencing rapid growth.

"By early January, we expect to consolidate our two San Mateo offices into a new facility," says Bhupen Shah, CTO of Sling Media and a recent guest panelist on a transcoding panel I moderated. "This will be our third move in as many years, and it’s necessitated by the growth the company is experiencing which has filled up our current location and required us to expand into another smaller location while we searched for the proper location to continue to grow the business. The new location should give us elbow room and enough expansion to potentially double our staff size."

In much the same way as Broadcast.com originated when Mark Cuban wanted to listen to sports radio broadcasts from a distance, Sling Media started from a simple idea: capture the consumer’s local TV source and deliver it to the consumer wherever he or she might be. The company’s main product, the Slingbox, does this one thing both well and seamlessly. With three models of the product—the AV, Pro and Tuner versions—available on the market, the Sling Box is designed to transcode content from TV or any video and audio source and "sling" or deliver it to a PC desktop, laptop, PDA or—with an additional piece of purchased software—a mobile phone, anywhere in the world.

"Jason [Krikorian] had the original idea," says Shah. "He and his brother had a product marketing firm which approached my product design firm, DiTango, to prototype the concept. We were jointly able to prove the concept and then joined forces in 2004 to create Sling Media. Along the way, we’ve brought place-shifting to the consumer, and our boxes have begun to be used for a variety of uses well beyond the original concept."

As a consumer electronics company, Sling has its products available online and in a variety of retail locations, including Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot, and other big box stores, with distribution logistics to the over 5,500 retail locations handled by Tennessee-based Ingram Micro. But consumer familiarity with the product seems to be spreading via word of mouth and the internet, rather than advertising via these outlets. While waiting for a meeting during a recent visit to the company’s headquarters, I observed the front desk receptionist receiving numerous calls asking where the product could be purchased.

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