LAS VEGAS - One of the biggest changes in television this year will be more channels being available online with no separate cable or satellite subscription.
But for would-be cord-cutters, watching sports has been the Holy Grail. Until now - at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, Dish Network on Monday unveiled an Internet-only subscription offering that includes ESPN.
Dish will offer a package of channels, including ESPN and CNN, starting at $20 a month. The availability of ESPN as part of the Internet package addresses a major reason people were loath to "cut the cord" from traditioal cable operators - live sports. NFL games will be blocked on mobile devices, however, because Verizon has those rights.
The company said it isn't worried that its current subscribers will cancel satellite service in favor of the cheaper Internet package. Rather, Dish is hoping to lure those who don't pay for TV channels at all because they find it too expensive.
"A lot of big incumbents don't like change, but everything else is changing around you," says Joe Clayton, Dish's CEO. "Technology is broadening the consumer viewing opportunity, and they are taking advantage of that."
Sony also has an Internet TV service, PlayStation Vue, expected to debut by the end of March, with channels from Viacom, Discovery, CBS, Fox, NBCUniversal and Scripps. HBO and Showtime already have announced plans for stand-alone Internet offerings, and CBS launched one in October. Those don't include live sports, though.
The Dish offering, dubbed Sling TV, will launch in a few weeks and also include channels from Disney, Scripps and Time Warner's Turner. About 20 channels will be available, such as the Disney Channel, ABC Family, the Food Network, HGTV, the Travel Channel, TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. Sling TV is not to be confused with the SlingTV device that allows viewers to watch TV remotely. Sling Media, the maker of that device, is owned by EchoStar Corp., which was spun off from Dish in 2008.
The $20 price for Dish's basic package will be far cheaper than what people would pay for a cable or satellite. (Dish said its average monthly bill is about $85.) Dish says it keeps the Internet service cheap by excluding most over-the-air network channels, which can be costly for pay-TV providers as broadcasters demand higher fees. An Internet service also won't require special equipment, such as a satellite and receiver dishes.
For those who want more than the basic channels, Dish will offer various add-ons for $5 each, including extra channels for sports and a package for kids. The catch: Only one person can watch at a time. Family members who want to watch different channels simultaneously will need separate subscriptions.
Meanwhile, Dish is adding Netflix and other video apps to its Hopper set-top boxes, so viewers can watch both traditional channels and online video services through the same device. And anticipating that more Internet video will be shot with an increased resolution known as 4k, Dish is adding 4k capabilities to its Joey devices for multi-room viewing.
The four-day International CES formally opens Tuesday.