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How Dish is Winning by Cannibalizing Itself: AirTV, Dish-on-a-Stick, Native Alexa Voice

Demonstrated at CES 2017, Dish Networks’s new AirTV box and Dish-on-a-Fire-TV-Stick could cut into its traditional satellite service; First native Alexa Voice control for TV demo’d.

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In this reporter’s view, Dish Network won CES 2017 by offering 1) the first native Alexa integration for TV services, 2) AirTV player with integrated OTA streaming, and 3) Dish-on-a-stick, extending (legitimate) Dish Anywhere to a mobile Fire TV stick.

In many ways, Dish (Nasdaq: DISH) is making bold moves with new products and services that will undoubtedly cannibalize its traditional offerings. Then again, the company is poised to become a preferred provider for a new generation of consumers.

Here’s the skinny:

AirTV

In 2015, Dish introduced Sling TV, a service that streams a handful of the most popular TV channels to households who don’t want to invest in a full-blown TV package. Starting at just $20 per month, Sling TV would undermine Dish’s full service, which brings the company anywhere from $40/month to more than $200/month.

Why would they do that?!

Simple. Dish wanted to keep millions of cord-cutters and attract millions more cord-nevers … before start-ups took that business.

Dish didn’t wait until it milked every last customer; instead, the company proactively grabbed these customers, even while cannibalizing its existing customer base. Good on them.

At CES 2017, Dish further “threatened” its traditional business by introducing AirTV, a product that combines the Sling TV service with native Netflix and – here’s the clincher – over-the-air (OTA) channels via a TV antenna.

“It’s similar to Roku, but it can connect to an off-air antenna and bring in live TV in full HD,” says Drew Mehrmann, partner manager for Sling TV.

So it’s really not like Roku at all. It’s more like Roku meets HDHomeRun meets ESPN, CNN, Food Network and other popular TV channels.

AirTV is an Android box, so it can run any app from the Google Play Store, but Netflix comes pre-loaded, along with Sling TV. An optional AirTV Adapter plugs into a USB port on the streaming box, wiring to the antenna via coax cable to deliver OTA channels.

The Dish interface combines all of the TV services into a single guide, accessed via a single remote. It’s a first.

In addition to the AirTV, Dish announced two partners building the first products “optimized for Sling TV.”

Those are the Mi Box from Chinese giant Xiaomi, and select Android phones and video projectors from ZTE.

“So Sling TV could play right from a projector,” Mehrmann says.

On a related note, bring back the home antenna! You’ll want one for the OTA stations. Dish will install one for $150 outdoors or $130 indoors.

“It’s ironic how antennas are becoming so relevant today,” says Frank DeFilippis, national sales manager for Dish’s custom integration group.

Dish on a Stick

That’s not really the name for this new product, which is basically Dish Anywhere on a special Amazon Fire TV Stick. Take it with you on the road, plug it into an HDMI port on your hotel TV, and feel free to enjoy Dish right there on the big screen.

Anything available through Dish Anywhere – basically, anything you can access from Dish … period – can now be viewed on a remote TV, even in a foreign country.

Your local channels and electronic programming guide, video on demand, DVR recordings, live TV … all of it.

A tiny remote comes with the stick. Don’t forget to bring that too.

Beyond the business case for Dish-on-a-Stick, it is the single product I saw at CES that I must have right away. 

When I travel, and even when I’m home, I use Dish Anywhere on my tablet. But when I’m roaming around the house (or a hotel room in a foreign land), I like my early-morning news show playing in the background. The new Fire TV Stick will be perfect for that.

More importantly, when my husband and I travel together, which is pretty often because we’re in the same industry, we like to unwind at night with “our shows.”

That’s tough to do on an 8-inch mobile display.

OK, now imagine this: Let’s say you have a second home. You don’t need to order Dish service there. You can just plug in a stick.

Again, this product cannibalizes Dish’s traditional service, but the company sees the future. Such a progressive (and aggressive) business model is often lacking with other technology providers, especially in the streaming media space. By the time they realize their legacy services don’t jibe with new demographics and modern means of content consumption … it’s often too late. The start-ups beat ‘em, as they have nothing to lose.

Beyond the business case for this product, it is the single product I saw at CES that I must have right away. Unfortunately, it won’t be available until summer.

Voice Control

Even before CES, Dish announced it would integrate with Amazon Alexa for voice control. I couldn’t wait to see it. Or hear it.

I have Dish. I have Alexa. I want to control my TV by voice. That’s really all I want in life.

Dish showed a pretty good pre-production version of the integration at CES. The video below is worth watching to understand just what it can and can’t do.

“The idea is that: If you wanted to watch something, how quickly can you get to the content that you want to watch, without having to pick up the remote and go to the menus and find the content that you’re looking for?” says Dish product manager Sashi Choudhary.

The beauty of the integration is that it’s as close to “native” as you can get with Alexa, and for that there has been “a lot of work on Amazon’s part,” DeFilippis says.

Earlier iterations of Alexa integration with Dish (and other TV services) were developed using Alexa Skills. Users would have to say, “Alexa, ask Hopper to go to CNN.” With the new implementation, users simply utter, “Alexa, go to CNN.”

Dish will be the first with this type of native integration for TV control.

A few notables:

  • When you search for content, it looks through all of the available content available through Dish, including the electronic programming guide, DVR and supported services like Netflix.
  • You can’t launch Netflix from Alexa, but if you search for shows that happen to be available through Netflix, then you can play the show from there.
  • At launch you won’t be able to turn the TV on and off through Dish/Alexa (even though the Dish remote can be programmed to do this), but that feature will come eventually via HDMI CEC.
  • Likewise, phase I will exclude transport controls like record and pause.
  • The most compelling application? “Alexa, find the University of Michigan game.”

Eventually, we might see native Alexa Voice Services (AVS) embedded in Dish remotes. The company already makes its own voice remote, but it's not nearly as functional as Alexa. 

Play-Fi for Multiroom Audio

If that's not enough, Dish also announced at CES support for the DTS Play-Fi wireless audio platform, allowing Hopper boxes and Joey clients to deliver streaming music throughout the home.

With Play-Fi capabilities, Dish can integrate with supported audio products from Aerix, Anthem, Arcam, Definitive Technology, Klipsch, MartinLogan, McIntosh, Paradigm, Phorus, Polk Audio, Rotel, Sonus Faber, Wren, Elite, Integra, Pioneer, Onkyo, Thiel, SVS Sound and more to come. (Read the press release.)

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

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