Sling TV subscriber numbers hit 5-year low — and I think I know why

The Sling TV app button on the Apple TV home screen.
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Fewer people pay for Sling TV now than in the last five years. More to the point, Sling TV's subscriber numbers are at their all-time low since this data was made available. And we're not exactly shocked.

This news comes as parent company Dish Network reported its Q1 2023 financial results yesterday (May 8, 2023). Sling TV subscribers totaled 2.1 million for Q1 2023 (January 1 to March 31, 2023), down from 2.33 million in the previous quarter. This is the second biggest quarter-to-quarter drop since the service lost around 280,000 subscribers between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020.

Digital Trends called this the lowest number in five years, but it actually extends just slightly beyond that, as Sling's Q4 2017 report claimed 2.212 million Sling TV subscribers. This was the first quarterly report where Dish broke out its Sling subscriber count, as it previously stated "DISH includes all of its Sling TV subscribers in the company's total Pay-TV metrics."

Over the last 5+ years, Sling's subscriber count hit a high of 2.69 million in Q3 2019, and 14 out of the 22 quarters saw subs in the range of 2.5 to 2.3 million. While we still consider Sling TV one of the best cable TV alternatives and one of the best streaming services, this isn't good news for Sling.

Analysis: Why this is happening and what Sling can do

Over the last months, Sling TV subscribers have been hit by up to two price hikes, depending on their service package. The first hit in November 2022 (which would be Q4 2022), and saw Sling raise prices by $5 per month on its Blue, Orange and Orange & Blue tiers.

Sling did not add any perks or upgrades to make this bitter hike go down more smoothly. Sling did, however, add the ABC broadcast network when it introduced a second $5 per month price increase for Sling Blue subscribers. But, annoyingly, this was complicated.

All of these price increases and complexities have made the once quite-simple Sling TV rather annoyingly intricate.

Only the following markets got ABC on Sling: Chicago (WLS), Fresno (KFSN), Houston (KTRK), Los Angeles (KABC), New York (WABC), Philadelphia (WPVI), Raleigh-Durham (WTVD) and San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (KGO). Oh, and those in Fresno, Houston and Raleigh actually got ABC for free.

And that all happened whether you wanted ABC or not. As someone who didn't need ABC (I use Hulu to watch Abbott Elementary), this upgrade felt like another forced price hike that I didn't need. In this time, I myself canceled Sling for YouTube TV, which was followed by a YouTube TV price hike of $8 per month that pushed me away. I'm now ditching YouTube TV for Hulu + Live TV.

All of these price increases and complexities have made the once quite-simple Sling TV rather annoyingly intricate. How can Sling regain ground? Upgrades to its interface and low DVR cap are needed, especially the latter since unlimited DVRs are available on competitors such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and DirecTV Stream.

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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.