EchoStar Buys the Slingbox

The satellite TV company might also be buying scrutiny from lawyers.

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I was always surprised someone didn't try to sue Sling Media out of existence. The company essentially invented "place shifting," which enables users to watch whatever is showing on their home television from anywhere in the world. Founder Blake Krikorian told me back in 2005, when the company was launching its product, that he and his brother cooked up the idea because their travels forced them to miss too many televised San Francisco Giants games.

The irony is that Major League Baseball has worked as hard as any content provider to control where its product can be seen. The league has enforced local blackouts on games that it broadcasts across the Web, and the league is reportedly irked by the Slingbox's ability to get around those restrictions.

Earlier this year, Krikorian said that the company had in the past heard rumblings of potential lawsuits, but that they had faded. Instead, content providers like cable and satellite companies came to see how they could use Slingbox to enhance their offerings. That seems validated by news this week that Sling Media is selling itself to EchoStar, the satellite TV company.

Krikorian says he decided to sell partly because EchoStar could help him expand the product's reach. Selling some 500,000 devices in two years is impressive, but Slingbox was still a product for techies who understood its concept and could get it set up.

EchoStar can get the product to more people, particularly with the help of its local installers. But you have to wonder if EchoStar's deeper pockets might draw the lawyers back for another look at Slingbox, especially if it moves from a curiosity to the mainstream.


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