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Why Sling TV’s New “Traditional Guide” Is Working

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In late May, Sling TV released a new “traditional guide” for users. It’s essentially a grid format for viewing what content is currently on TV, as well as what content is coming up. This was easily the most requested feature at Sling TV, so it’s easy to see how this new change – while not revolutionary – is going to make the content discovery process for Sling TV users a lot easier. There are several good reasons why Sling TV’s “traditional guide” is working.

Reason #1: It simplifies a confusing interface

While the old Sling TV user interface was functional, it certainly wasn’t elegant. And, if you were feeling particularly uncharitable, you might even say that it was confusing. It made it harder than it needed to be to find what’s on at a specific point in time.

If you think about the way you watch linear TV, it’s easy to see why the grid format – listing channels and times in a series of tiny boxes – remains so popular. It enables you to scroll through quickly an entire listing of 50, 100, even 150 channels very quickly. And you can see what is coming up, too. In short, it made planning your TV watching experience very simple. That’s what Sling TV is trying to regain with its traditional guide: a simpler, more intuitive way to discover content.

Reason #2: It makes it even easier to switch from boring old cable

In its branding, Sling TV loves to take potshots at the old legacy cable providers, touting all the ways that its streaming TV service is fundamentally different from cable. Maybe it’s for that reason Sling TV never fully embraced “the grid” – it might have made Sling TV seem a bit too much like “old TV.”

But if you think about it, giving TV viewers “the grid” also makes it a lot easier to switch. Most people who watch TV don’t care how they get their content – via satellite, cable or Internet – they just want their favorite shows and their favorite programs.

And so “the grid” makes everything seem a lot more familiar for cord-cutters. There’s no longer a sense that they might be missing out on something by getting Sling TV. When they get Sling Orange or Sling Blue, they can instantly see that they’re getting everything that their cable-subscribing friends are getting.

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Reason #3: It helps to establish the difference between Sling TV and Netflix

If you think about it, there are two components of the traditional cable TV experience that cord-cutters have to replace: linear TV and an archive of films and shows. For most people, Netflix fills the second need (with lots of movies and shows), but doesn’t fill the first need. If you want to watch TV shows as they appear on the air, you’ll never get that with Netflix.

So you can see how the “grid guide” might turn out to be a brilliant move by Sling TV. It will further differentiate Sling TV from Netflix by emphasizing that Sling TV is an unbeatable provider of live, linear TV. When Sling TV subscribers then find out that it’s possible to watch Sling TV “on demand” content, that’s going to make for a very powerful value proposition. It will be clear that Sling TV offers the best of both worlds, especially as Sling TV continues to upgrade its “on demand” offerings.

Reason #4: It super-satisfies the core Sling TV fans

There’s a basic key to the success of any business: always super-satisfy your biggest fans. What causes problems for companies is when they start to forget about their core fans and begin to focus on other groups of users.

So creating the traditional guide is a great way to show that Sling TV is really listening to its core users. As even Sling TV executives admit, the No. 1 most requested feature has always been a grid format guide. And now Sling TV users have that grid.

With the grid format guide, Sling TV users will be able to see at a glance what’s on, they will be able to filter channels by genre, and they will be able to peek at upcoming schedules. In short, they’re getting everything they wanted.

Reason #5: It will encourage Sling TV users to sample from the a la carte menu

Right now, the Sling TV brand experience is emphasizing “a la carte TV.” With that branding, Sling TV wants to emphasize that it offers a whole lot of content that you can slice and dice however you want. There’s the option to get 150 channels, but most people only get 20. So Sling TV is all about letting you choose which 20 channels you get.

But here’s the thing – sometimes it’s good to let people experiment with new things. Think about the traditional a la carte menu – if you’re going to a restaurant with friends or family, people often order things off this menu that you would never ordinarily order yourself. But that style of ordering encourages sharing and experimentation. You might take a bite of a tasty appetizer and make a mental note: order this the next time I’m here.

In the same way, seeing all those glorious TV channels in a grid format could convince Sling TV users to decide to experiment with even more channels. Maybe they start with 20 channels, but decide to check out some “comedy” or “entertainment” or “international” channels. All of a sudden, the basic Orange subscriber paying $20 a month becomes an Orange subscriber paying $25 or $30 or $35 a month. See? Without the grid, this user might not have known about all the channels out there. Now they can see all the other options out there.

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Sometimes the smallest strategic moves can turn out to drive huge business results. In this case, the addition of a grid-format schedule may not seem like a big deal. It’s certainly not a revolutionary move. But it’s exactly what Sling TV users wanted. A simple, intuitive grid interface could do more than just incrementally improve the Sling TV experience, it could help Sling TV win over new customers and tighten up its value proposition. It’s easy to see that Sling TV’s new “traditional guide” is already working.

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