If you live in a country where free to air TV is commonplace, then the only issue that makes it tough to arrange, is the installation of a rooftop home antenna. Which is why it makes complete sense for Dish and its set top sister company EchoStar, which also houses Sling Media, to go about the task of promoting cord cutting with its new AirTV. Dish is really taking on the task of eating its own children here.
Dish is already in the business of installing satellite dishes and a rooftop antenna is a similar exercise – although increasingly indoor antennas can work in some parts of some countries, depending on signal strength. This may give Dish an edge where other rivals, such as TiVo, have less experience with getting the local TV channels free over the air.
The AirTV service has been rumored for a while, but has come out in the first days of CES, a simple digital terrestrial hybrid with a digital antenna adapter built into an Android box, capable of also attaching to your broadband line. It’s initial line up consists of the free channels, and Sling TV, the OTT service which paradoxically Dish (rather than Sling) has already launched in the US. On the new AirTV website, all the various foreign language options including TV channels in Hindi, Arabic, Brazilian, Mandarin, Urdu, Cantonese, Punjabi, Polish, Taiwanese and others, with programming from those territories, but only available in the US.
It will also bring you Netflix and attach your TV to Google Play (and YouTube), making any TV a Google TV. One of its major claims is that some of the programming is 4K. The installation service that will get your antenna working is called AirTV Pro Install which is available anywhere in the US.
“Americans are rediscovering free local, over-the-air TV for sports, shows and news, particularly given how well OTA complements popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Sling TV and YouTube,” said Mitch Weinraub, director of product development for AirTV. “AirTV’s new streaming device and antenna installation service again make getting your entertainment as easy as turning on the TV.”
The product release cites Nielsen numbers saying that 14 million households in the US watch over-the-air TV (others put it far higher), but Nielsen concedes that this number is growing fast.
In the end this is about competing with Roku with the addition of local FTA TV, while simply promoting SlingTV.
The difference is that no-one has to pay for national broadcast TV networks which are famous for demanding $billions in retrans fees from pay TV operators, including as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC.
TiVo tried something similar to this in February 2015 when it partnered with rural telco Frontier Communications opening up its 2.4 million broadband homes to a similar hybrid. That deal relied on the expensive Roamio TiVo DVR, rather than the $130 AirTV. Frontier has never owned up to how successful this has been, but it has been a constant theme with TiVo, and prior to this it had a partnership with Entone in hybrid free to air partnered with a network DVR. Successful hybrid products are far more common in Europe where market leaders often market them – especially DVB-T and broadband, often using HbbTV.
Air TV is available immediately at AirTV.net, and AirTV Player is WiFi and Ethernet compatible and connects to a TV via HDMI and the remote works via Bluetooth and has dedicated buttons for Sling TV, Netflix and Google.
AirTV will separately sell you the AirTV Player with an optional OTA digital adapter for $130, which includes a $50 Sling TV credit, or one without the adapter for $100 and sources a separate digital TV adapter for $40. It also sells an indoor antenna for $100 and an outdoor one for $150, but someone will have to install it on your roof.
Sling TV has also announced at CES an “Optimized for Sling TV” certification program which takes in the AirTV Player as well as China’s Xiaomi Mi Box, which may use the “Optimized for Sling TV” logo.
The Mi Box has 4K Ultra HD streaming and is also Android based and costs $69 and Sling says it will work with rival players to get as many devices certified as it can get.
In a separate announcement, Universal Electronics said that it was the supplier of the Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) voice remote for the newly launched AirTV Player.2