interviews Sling Media’s Blake Krikorian

Following last night’s news of Echostar’s acquisition of Sling Media, sat down with Sling’s co-founder, chairman, and CEO, Blake Krikorian to discuss the buy-out and their plans going forward. Sling will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Echostar, and continue to operate independently, selling their products at retail internationally and working with other partners. I’m a little nervous – I like Sling, and this could be good, but it could also go wrong. Almost exactly 10 years ago, in late 1997, the startup tech company I worked for, Livingston Enterprises, was acquired by a much larger company, Lucent Technologies. Things were OK at first, but then they started meddling in our product plans, design, etc. A year later Lucent acquired another company that had been Livingston’s main competitor, and people from that company got into management and basically strangled what was left of Livingston at that point. So I’ve seen this kind of deal go sour.

On the other hand, it could work out very well if Echostar handles them right. Having the security of a large parent company can allow a subsidiary to take more risks. You don’t have the constant concern of making or breaking the company on new products – not as much as when you’re answering to investors anyway. Echostar’s technology portfolio and established industry contacts could be useful to Sling. And their deep pockets sure won’t hurt. Sling has struggled to develop new products and continue to update their existing products within the constraints of their budget – matching hiring to sales growth, etc. With Echostar backing them, it is conceivable that they could hire more developers and devote more resources toward bringing products like Clip+Sling and Sling Catcher to market, as well as updating their SlingPlayer software and filing down some rough edges. (The TiVo remote selection is kind of a mess, for example.) So this could lead to a more polished and poised Sling. It will certainly be something I’ll be watching closely, and I’m cautiously happy for my friends at Sling.

Blake summed up the potential upside in his interview:

What can you do as part of EchoStar that you couldn’t do on your own?

Our pockets will be a lot deeper so I don’t have to be out there raising money every 12 months. Unknown to many people, even me, is the tremendous technology portfolio and engineering resources that EchoStar has. They’ve deployed more direct video recorders than anybody else in the world. They’ve built their entire dish network–and everything that supports it–themselves, including the billing systems, the backend, uplink facilities, and so on. So there’s a lot of raw ingredients that we can pull to accelerate our development.

Blake also dropped this interesting tidbit:

Does that mean we won’t see a Slingbox integrated into an EchoStar Dish?

It will be great to see Sling embedded in Dish network products. But the first products with Sling embedded may be with a different operator.

Interesting. We know Sling has been working with DirecTV in other areas. Just tossing that out there.

Read the article for the full interview.

In related news, Broadcast Newsroom is reporting that Clip+Sling will launch in early 2008.

The project is on track to enter beta before the end of 2007 with a public launch “more around the first of the year,” [Sling Media Entertainment Group President Jason] Hirschhorn said. “I’ve got my creative guys trying to finish Clip + Sling … We have a lot of work to do.”

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  • HDTiVo

    I started considering that this deal might be in part about Sling dropping the hardware business; speculating that perhaps selling boxes wasn’t something that looked like it would pan out as a business, and that the content activity they’ve been doing would become the focus.

    Now reading Blake’s comments, I see this as a way to accomplish a hardware exit without exiting the hardware business. Sling technology embeded in other boxes that are necessary already would be the hardware focus.