SlingBox: television networks' friend or foe?

SlingMedia logoIt’s common for new technology to press the boundaries of what’s permissible under current intellectual property laws or to challenge existing business models — or both — and Sling Media’s SlingBox is no exception. The futuristic looking device connects to a home’s TV signal (cable box, digital tuner or PVR) and then ‘slings’ that signal over a broadband connection to either a PC or cell phone, or in theory, any Internet connected device that can run the SlingPlayer software. While the ability to re-stream television for personal use is popular with customers, television networks and content producers aren’t so impressed.

SlingMedia’s SlingBox

How it works

Up to four live audio/video signals can be connected to a SlingBox, such as a cable set-top-box, satellite receiver, DVR, or other A/V source, so that they are then accessible over your home network or over the Internet. At the other end is the SlingPlayer software running on a Mac/PC or other device such as a smart phone, from which you’re enable to watch and control the signal from any of those set-top-box devices — such as play, change channel, pause, skip, rewind etc. The only restriction is that just one user can access the stream from a SlingBox at a time, in order to ensure that the device is for personal use only and not being used to share your TV signal with others on the Internet.

SlingPlayer software

Place shifting vs delivery-shifting

Despite this ‘personal use only’ restriction, a number of media companies have voiced concerns about the device’s ability to re-stream their content — even going as far to question the SlingBox’s legality. Speaking at last year’s NAB conference in Las Vegas, HBO CTO Bob Zitter was quoted as saying, “content owners don’t like it because they think it violates their copyrights.” And most recently, the Major League Baseball’s media division has criticised the SlingBox.

From CNET news:

“Moving content from one form of transmission to another certainly invites that kind of analysis,” said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB.com… For instance, if a TV signal was converted into a radio signal, it might raise the eyebrows of those broadcasters involved. The SlingBox, he added, “is not a place-shifting device, (it) is a delivery-shifting device.”

The argument being that the SlingBox doesn’t just allow you to move your content from one place to another (such as ripping a CD onto your PC and transferring it to your mp3 player), but in actual fact is re-transmitting content in the face of local licensing agreements. This is a particularly thorny issue when it comes to live sports rights.

SlingPlayer on a Nokia phoneFor example, a SlingBox customer has subscribed to cable so they can watch their local baseball team’s live televised matches. Then when they’re away from home (out of town or simply at the office), they can ‘sling’ that live feed over the net and onto their PC so that they never miss a game, and without having to re-purchase the same match from MLB.com. (Why would anybody want to pay for the same content twice?)

Countering the concerns of rights holders, Sling Media argues that the device is actually beneficial to content owners. At a Congressional hearing held last year, the company’s CEO Blake Krikorian stressed that the SlingBox neither records content nor distributes it to more than one end point at a time.

“I think for the cable company this is a great thing, I think a product like this is going to help drive their services,” Krikorian was quoted as saying.

The argument is that SlingBox adds value to a customer’s cable package by making it accessible to them for more hours of the day, even when they are away from home. Because of this, Kikorian says, the device actually helps to make local broadcasters relevant in an on-demand Internet connected age.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

9 Responses to “SlingBox: television networks' friend or foe?”

  1. […] Source:last100 It’s common for new technology to press the boundaries of what’s permissible under current intellectual property laws or to challenge existing business models — or both — and Sling Media’s SlingBox is no exception. The futuristic looking device connects to a home’s TV signal (cable box, digital tuner or PVR) and then ’slings’ that signal […] Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  2. Hornswaggled says:

    I am a slingbox user and purchase cable tv solely for this reason. I am rarely at home to view tv but this device allows me to watch TV on my laptop as well as my cell phone when I am traveling.

    Without the slingbox I would cancel my home cable service and just watch OTA broadcasts.

  3. […] be to allow users to stream programs recorded on their Sky+ box (or any other DVR) over the net, similar to a Slingbox. This would add another dimension to Internet TV; you could be working away in another part of the […]

  4. […] Consumers know that this isn’t in their interests and are increasingly aware that the Internet provides the perfect platform for getting around any regional restrictions, with or without the support of the leagues themselves. A number of P2P services illegally re-stream sports coverage from television networks outside of the originating country, while Sling Media’s SlingBox enables users to stream their TV signal over the Internet for personal use (which could include live sports coverage). […]

  5. Ashley Hunt says:

    I pay for my uk manditory tv licence, I pay for my cable tv, I paid for my slingbox, I am a uk citizen. These money grabbing idiots can do one. Next they want us to pay for breathing ha ha

  6. […] rrrr wrote an interesting post today on […]

  7. […] SlingBox: television networks’ friend or foe? | last100It's common for new technology to press the boundaries of what's permissible under current intellectual property laws or to challenge existing business … […]

  8. […] SlingBox: television networks’ friend or foe? | last100It’s common for new technology to press the boundaries of what’s permissible under current intellectual property laws or to challenge existing business models — or […]

  9. […] SlingBox: television networks’ friend or foe? | last100Slingbox is a new piece of kit that’ll change the way you watch TV forever. Put a Slingbox on top of your home TV and it’ll send the live signal to your … […]

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