Sling TV growth slows dramatically amid HBO standoff and greater competition

The cheapest of the major internet TV streaming services, Sling TV isn’t drawing new subscribers quite like it used to. Yesterday, parent company Dish said Sling TV picked up only 26,000 new subscribers in the third quarter of 2018 and acknowledged that the service had drawn “fewer” customers compared to its performance over the few quarters prior. (Sling TV reported 41,000 new subscribers in Q2 and 91,000 in Q1.) In the year-ago quarter, subscriber gains were 240,000.

One possible reason for the sluggish growth is pretty simple: price. Back in June, Sling TV raised the price of its base Orange subscription from $19.99 to $25. Five bucks might not seem like much, but it matters to customers who have taken to these streaming TV services in an effort to save as much as possible versus traditional cable.

But the small price hike isn’t the only thing that has frustrated Sling TV customers; Dish is in a standoff with WarnerMedia that has led to the abrupt removal of HBO and Cinemax from the service. Both networks went dark on November 1st. The two sides have been unable to agree on a new distribution deal, which has also resulted in HBO / Cinemax being pulled from Dish’s satellite programming lineup for the first time in 40 years. Univision has also removed its channels from Sling TV over a similar carriage dispute, a change that Dish has said “may be permanent.”

In hopes of boosting gains heading into the holidays, Sling TV today announced a handful of deals ranging from gift cards to discounts on Roku devices to extended free trials.

Sling TV isn’t alone in contending with slow growth. As noted by Bloomberg, AT&T’s DirecTV Now gained only 49,000 subscribers last quarter compared to a jump of 342,000 customers in the quarter prior to that. CEO John Donovan said that consumers are “seasonally shopping for shows” and “jumping from promotion to promotion and really spinning in the industry between us, Hulu Live, [and] YouTube TV.” This month, AT&T will discontinue a $15 credit toward DirecTV Now that it previously gave to customers who also subscribe to the company’s base unlimited smartphone plan. (People who already have that discount will keep it.)

Those latter two services seem to be faring better than Sling TV and DirecTV Now at the moment. YouTube TV — currently the best of the pack in terms of user experience — has racked up 100,000 new customers in the past two quarters, according to an estimate that analyst Vijay Jayant gave Bloomberg. Hulu with Live TV managed to do even better, tallying 175,000 new viewers.

As Donovan alluded to, none of these services require customers to sign contracts or any long-term commitment, so it’s very easy to simply bail on one of them if there’s a sudden channel shakeup or price hike and immediately switch over to another.

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