When Blake Krikorian made the rounds in 2004-2005 to tell people about his new device called the Slingbox, the founder and then-CEO of Sling Media employed a pretty smart tactic: He coined a term – placeshifting – to describe what exactly it was his company’s flagship product, the Slingbox, actually did. As described by Om, placeshifting was “the concept of watching your television, anywhere, anytime.”
This move was slick for a couple reasons: First, Krikorian was able to capture the imagination of the technology press, who up to that point had had a hard time actually describing what others — like Orb Networks and Sony’s LocationFree line — did. Second, he was able to commandeer the discussion and insert Sling as the company for every article discussing this cool new technology. The end result of all this was Sling Media being acquired by PayTV giant Echostar in 2007.
But, after all that, Sling — and its counterparts Orb Networks, Sony and others — has not become the next big consumer hit. In fact, even as Sling released new HD models and Dish has started to integrate the technology into its DVRs, Slingboxes have remained mainly toys for business travelers.
So what happened here? Did Sling and others in the placeshifting market fail to execute? The answer is no. Instead, the avalanche of online content has made placeshifting unnecessary.
Back in 2005 at the height of Slingmania, bored business travelers bought Slingboxes to watch shows in their hotel rooms. But as more and more content came online, it became apparent that trying to placeshift a consumer’s content might not be the most elegant or the most desireable solution. Today, the online content gold rush for consumer electronics makers is mostly about porting popular online services such as Netflix OnDemand, YouTube and others to network-connected devices.
Not only is it easier for consumers — no matter how slick Sling’s software is, direct streaming is always going to be more straightforward than placeshifting — but quality is also going to be much higher with direct streams. With the momentum now clearly in favor of direct streaming over placeshifting, the larger question is whether, over time, there will even be a need to placeshift content — even personal content such as photos and home videos — from networked consumer devices at all.
Perhaps, but with easy storage of personal content in the cloud as well, the larger trend is clear: cloud-stored content streamed direct to the consumer is the wave of the future.