Sling TV Pixelated and Buffering

I Tried Sling TV, and It Was Terrible

I’d like to think I’m one of those cord cutters the media keeps talking about. Of course, Comcast is the only high speed internet in my building, so it almost feels silly to say the cord is cut, but I’m doing my best.

Part of that is lots of streaming services. I pay for both Hulu and Netflix, and on occasion will rent a movie from Xbox. However, come football season, I’m suddenly desperately missing live TV. For the past couple of years, I’ve bitten the bullet and paid for NFL streaming. This year, with Sling TV going big, I thought I’d see about a return to Live TV.

After barely a month, let’s just say I’m unimpressed.

Technical Issues

Wow this is a terribly built product. Ok, that’s not fair, the UI is whatever. Is it silly that a company with over 10 years of experience building TV UIs didn’t include a real TV guide? Yes. Is it a deal breaker? No. But the actual video watching experience — I’ve never seen this bad of a streaming experience. I’d blame my internet if I didn’t have 3 other streaming services that consistently work fine.

To give them a very small amount of credit, this is a hard technical problem. But, it’s also a solved technical problem. There are literally entire platform offerings from Microsoft and Azure that help with distributing streaming video. Yet, for some reason, Sling TV is unable to consistently stream without either buffering or severe jumps.

Actually, I’d be ok with buffering — if all that happened was every 5 minutes there was some buffering, it’d be ok. Rather, it jumps. Watching something like football is impossible. You’ll be watching someone at the 20 yard line, there’ll be a jitter, then suddenly he’s dancing in the end zone. As I sit here writing this, I see the ball snapped to Tom Brady at their 30 yard line, a stuttering loading screen, and suddenly James White is on the ground at the 10 yard line. What the hell just happened? Not to mention, when it comes back, it’s heavily pixelated for at least 30 seconds.

Here’s a little taste — I recorded about 90 seconds of streaming, this just happened to come through.

As long as you don’t actually want to watch the ending to any big plays, you’re good.

100% unwatchable.

I’ve also had about a 10% success rate watching over mobile. It almost doesn’t matter because of how bad the streaming experience is, but given that’s one of their main feature, I thought I’d mention it.

Asshole Bundling is Alive and Well

If there’s something that got me off of cable, it was the ridiculous bundling. I don’t need 13 food related channels if all I want is Redzone and ESPN.

I (very incorrectly) thought Sling would be the return of rational channel bundling. The first point where this burned me was trying to watch ESPN. To get the college football networks and the Red Zone, you need to buy the “Blue” package (with an addon). Of course, I assumed all sports related channels would be in that bundle, and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. How surprised was I when I come along on Thursday night and find out ESPN is in the “Orange” bundle. Second, I made sure NBC was in the bundle I paid for, and again assumed that would mean all the basic cable channels would be there. Nope. To get ESPN + Redzone, and most basic cable, you’re looking at $45 / month.

There were very legitimate reasons Comcast did their bundling — it’s sort of a social program for the less popular channels. But, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding on Sling’s part of the cord cutting movement. I don’t care if I’m paying Comcast or Direct TV for TV — I care that I’m not paying for a bunch of shit I don’t watch. Give me a $5 / month plan with ESPN and RedZone, and you’ve got my business.

Live TV Sucks

Apologies for the simplistic reasoning, but I’d actually forgotten how much I hate live TV. Who in the world wants to wait for a specific time to watch something? I’ve primarily mentioned sports in this post because, try as I might, I never really watched anything else. I watched the Travel channel a bit, but forgot how much I hate commercials. I tried to watch the MacGyver reboot, but got home late the day it aired and missed it. I had genuinely forgotten how shitty this was, Hulu with 1 day after viewing is not only as good as this, but significantly better.

Time to Cancel

Suffice it to say, when the month is over I’m cancelling Sling. I’m not happy about it. I want new business models to be successful, I want the modality of Live TV to evolve. But, it’s not Sling that’s going to do it. Maybe we just wait for Netflix to just start streaming sports. That could happen…right?