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Lots of people say they want to ditch cable TV for the Web, but can't because they want to watch sports — specifically the stuff on ESPN, which has a hammerlock on much of the sports world.
Now they will finally get a chance: Dish's new Web-TV service, which the company is formally announcing today, lets you stream ESPN, over the Web, for $20 a month.
Dish's "Sling TV"* offering, which the company says will launch "soon," also comes with 10 other non-ESPN channels, including the Food Network, CNN and the Travel Channel, and the ability to add more networks for additional fees.
But it's very unlikely that you're going to sign up for Sling TV because you want to stream Wolf Blitzer or "Chopped" to your iPad. If you get it, it's because you want to see stuff like the College Football Championship, which is going to air next week on exclusively on ESPN.
Put it another way: If ESPN wasn't in this package, do you think Dish would be trying to sell it?
So to review: This is the year that you'll be able to get HBO on the Web, without paying for any other cable channels, and ESPN on the Web, with just a handful of other channels. Throw in a Netflix subscription and you're probably looking at a $50 a month video package (you'll still need to pay for broadband on top of that) that might please a lot of people. That is — people who want to watch cable-TV programming but don't want to sign up for traditional cable-TV bundles.
That wasn't supposed to happen for years, but here we are. It's not the end of pay TV — the networks that are doing this believe they can sell this stuff on the Web without compromising their existing businesses — but it certainly could be the beginning of the end. At the very least, it's going to be hard to roll this back.
Are there catches? Of course. And some of them we can see from the start:
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And there are also plenty of things we just don't know about yet:
It's also possible that Sling TV simply won't get that much pick-up. After all, there are lots of ways to get relatively cheap packages of cable TV, and most of them don't seem to be very popular. Maybe the people who say they don't way to pay for pay TV really don't want to pay for pay TV, no matter how it's priced.
But my hunch is that HBO and ESPN are going to find lots of interest in what they're selling this year. And that when they do, they're going to find lots of other networks who are happy to join them. This could be a very big deal.
*Dish wants you to know that Sling TV has nothing to do with its Sling Media and Slingbox products, but doesn't explain why it used the same brand.
** I've heard other Apple TV partners gripe about Apple's design edicts as well. On the other hand, plenty of Apple TV partners, from ESPN to HBO to CBS — seem to be able to deal with them.
CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.