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Sling TV Readies its Offerings for the Coming SVOD Onslaught

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In preparation for the intensifying SVOD battle, Sling TV has adjusted its business model and re-engineered its underlying data stack based around mass personalization.

The original multichannel live streaming TV service is orienting toward SVOD aggregation.  A year ago, the platform added NBA League Pass to its service. This followed the integration of science-centric SVOD channel CuriosityStream (set up by Discovery founder John Hendricks) and Up Faith & Family and Pantaya as add-ons to its main service.

Last week the company announced it would offer free trial access to content, without any registration or credit card hand over, including episodes of popular shows like Heartland. What’s more, existing Sling TV users can now sign up to a selection of à la carte options, including CuriosityStream, Docurama, and Stingray Karaoke, for free.

“It’s no secret that competition is coming and with quite a few major players already in the OTT space including DirecTV Now, Hulu, YouTube TV, Amazon, and Apple there is definitely a time pressure to continue making advances,” says Brad Linder (right), director of cloud native engineering at Sling TV.

With Disney+ and an HBO-anchored WarnerMedia service scheduled to launch this year, along with Apple’s SVOD entrance and a direct-to-consumer play from NBCU/Comcast in the works, the battle for OTT video market share could see its most heated exchanges yet.

It could be one that pits direct-to-consumer services against content aggregator models from existing pay TV providers and OTT providers such as Amazon Channels, Hulu, or, maybe, Sling TV. 

Dish Network’s offering has close to 2.4 million subscribers across 16 platforms, including a variety of smart TVs, tablets, game consoles, computers, smartphones and streaming devices like Roku.

“With so many options available to potential cord cutters it is important to provide a first-class experience that makes your product stand out in a market that is becoming more and more saturated,” Linder says.

“As such, it is critical for Sling TV to provide a highly resilient and highly available service that is personalized to each user and one that scales on demand to keep up with our expanding customer base and changes on the internet. This includes the ability to centralize business logic across our 16 platforms to deliver a common experience to our customers.”

Personalization of service is key, Linder stresses. “When I joined Sling TV 3 years ago we had legacy systems developed in a non-cloud native era and not necessarily web-scale. What we’ve been trying to do for the past 18 months is to bring in solutions that scale horizontally to keep up with future growth. Our goal is to deploy in a datacentre so we reduce the time to market. A datacentre model will allow for another instance of the Sling TV backend to be built on-demand as needed in a hybrid cloud environment.

"Part of the solution was a common data store for core customers and personalized content that would be available in all data centers serving the middleware stack.”

The solution needed media distribution capabilities that included authentication, program catalogs, and feature metadata storage.

“What we try to do is give the customer what they want. We try to get relevant information and content quickly to folk with less friction—fewer clicks to video.

"We’re not just paying lip service to customer feedback. We want to solve the pain points they have and engineer the platform accordingly.”

Sling TV selected DataStax Enterprise (DSE), a proprietary version of the open source Apache Cassandra database. DataStax media customers include Comcast, Sky in the UK and M6 in France, while Apple (with over 75,000 nodes storing over 10 PB of data), Netflix (2,500 nodes, 420 TB, over 1 trillion requests per day), eBay, and Chinese search engine Easou all use Cassandra.

“First and foremost we wanted a partner,” Linder explains. “We don’t like vendors who charge for this and that. We want a partner with which we can evolve as a platform. We have a growing customer base and a very elastic business model, so we have to deliver our software into any public cloud as well as on-premises private cloud with close to the same tooling. From a technical perspective we need low latency and high availability. With DSE, we are now able to replicate data across the country in less than two seconds, which is a big win for us.”

Clues to Sling TV’s personalized service can be seen by Roku users. It has made search easier by automatically displaying Popular Searches, allowing users to quickly browse through the most searched-for content each day.

In addition, next episodes automatically play to encourage binge-viewing.

Sling TV is billing itself as "the only live OTT service to allow you to purchase à la carte channels without subscribing to a base service…. making it easy to stream all of your favorite content in the same interface."

While there will be some consumers who are introduced to Sling TV and subscribe to it through their initial purchase of an NBA League Pass, for example, such a strategy appears risky unless Sling TV can indeed position itself as the "new cable TV" by signing up multiple DTC partners.

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