Sling’s Series B(ig) Financing

As has been reported on CNet, Om Malik’s Broadband Blog, Silicon Beat and elsewhere, and discussed in the blogosphere, today Sling Media announced they have raised $46.6M from the likes of Liberty Media, EchoStar and Goldman Sachs. Of course, the Series A lead investors, my firm Mobius Venture Capital and co-lead Doll Capital Management participated in this round as well.

Adding Goldman Sachs, Liberty Media and EchoStar to the investor roster is a great milestone for the company and I view the involvement of media and broadcasting players Liberty and EchoStar in particular as a great validation of the potential that place-shifting in general and the Slingbox in particular have going forward. To date, working with the folks at Sling Media has been a VC’s dream: they’ve exceeded expectations every step of the way, delivered a great first product to the market in record time which has delighted users and has sold ahead of the company’s own aggressive targets, and, last week, they closed this ambitious Series B financing that brought in excellent strategic investors who will be great partners for the company going forward. Congrats to Sling’s founders Blake, Jason and Bhupen on a job well done!

Naturally, as a VC, I also feel compelled to mention that a big financing, by itself, does not make a successful company, but it does put Sling Media in a position to continue doing on an expanded scale what has served them very well thus far: building excellent and innovative products while maintaining their maniacal focus on a great user experience that starts from the moment a Slingbox is picked up off of a retailer’s shelves.

After walking the halls in January at this year’s CES, one theme was crystal-clear: this is year that video content begins to find a home beyond the living room TV. Many of the big media content players deserve credit for embracing the internet as a means of distribution far more willingly than the record industry ever did, and they appear to have applied the lessons of history to their business. Of course, they had more time to figure it out since only now have broadband penetration, increased processor speeds and the evolution of video codecs made video distribution over the internet a real possibility, while the record labels were caught quite by surprise when they got Napsterized back in the late 90s.

At this point, however, as forward-thinking (relatively speaking) as content-owners and networks seem to be acting, thus far their forays into internet video distribution with the likes of iPod/iTunes, Google Video or services like Comcast’s On Demand (in my mind, a cousin to internet video distribution and IPTV) are merely experiments with the medium, just a dip of the toe to see if the water’s warm enough. In clear violation of the now well-worn long tail principle, they are only releasing a minute fraction of their libraries and are not yet broadly embracing the vision of the infinite video-jukebox-in-the-sky that provides access to all current and past television and movie content ever produced. Surely that is the end-game that would cause consumers to embrace VOD and internet video distribution services en masse, but today’s first offerings aren’t even close to that lofty ideal.

Which brings me back to one of the reasons I got excited about the Slingbox in the first place: it provides an elegant shortcut on the path to this vision of the future. As a consumer, why mess around with new online services, new subscription fees, new download models and limited and balkanized selections of programming when you can buy a Slingbox today and have anytime, anywhere access to the hundreds of channels of video programming you already subscribe to?

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