Despatches. Slingbox launches in UK
By Kate Bulkley
Monday June 5, 2006
Box clever with remote viewing
Think of it as a way to take your TV set with you wherever you go. It is called the Slingbox, and once you hook it up to your TV, you can call up all your home viewing - including all your Sky or cable services, as well as shows recorded on your video recorder - while you are on the move.
The brainchild of Sling Media, a small California start-up, the Slingbox has become a big seller in the US since its launch last July and recently the £179 device was a top-10 bestseller on Amazon. The company will not reveal exact sales, but Blake Krikorian, its chief executive, says that they are in six figures and are tracking "very nicely" against early iPod sales. "Consumers love their TV and they are looking for more ways to consume it," says Krikorian, a mechanical engineer and serial tech entrepreneur, who founded the company out of his own personal frustration with not being able to see his favourite sports teams while he was travelling. "I figured I'd paid for them already through my home TV subscription so I should be able to watch them."
In the UK, the Slingbox is available from PC World and Dixons will soon stock it. Besides allowing you to access your pay TV subscriptions remotely, the UK version of the Slingbox has a built-in Freeview tuner. Once the box - which looks a little like a big, silver-coloured chocolate bar - is attached to your TV and to a broadband connection, and the Sling Player software is installed on your PC, you can call up your home TV programming on to your PC from anywhere in the world. You can watch live TV as well; it is a bit like having long-distance access to your TV remote control and there is no additional subscription. Slingbox recently launched a mobile software player as well, which allows users to "sling" their TV programmes to video-enabled mobile phones.
As Slingbox sales increase, broadcasters and content owners are looking closely at whether copyright is being violated when customers view their TVs in places rights holders had not expected. "We read every day in the press that we are going to be sued, but it hasn't happened yet," says Krikorian. "When a device comes on to the market that is so empowering to the consumer, the kneejerk reaction from the broadcasters and content guys is 'this must be a bad thing' but we've been assuring them that this is a one-to-one product and it's clearly fair use, but yes, it's disruptive."
John Malone's Liberty Media (which owns the Starz movie channels and QVC) and US direct-to-home satellite service EchoStar have translated any concerns that they may have about Slingbox into a direct investment: both companies contributed to a £25m fundraising for Sling Media completed in January.