Former MTV Digital Vets Head to Sling Media

Jason Hirschhorn, Ben White to Take Place-Shifting Service Into 'Phase Two'

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NEW YORK ( -- Jason Hirschhorn, MTV Network's former digital guru, and Ben White, his deputy at MTV, have landed full-time at Sling Media. Their role is to take the company, which is known for place-shifting TV content, into what Mr. Hirschhorn calls "phase two" -- letting users work with content in ways that haven't been done before.
Jason Hirschhorn has landed at Sling, where he'll try to convince Big Media that it is OK to have content placed everywhere.
Jason Hirschhorn has landed at Sling, where he'll try to convince Big Media that it is OK to have content placed everywhere.

Sling Media's namesake product, the Slingbox, works by plugging into home entertainment devices -- a TV or a DVR, for example -- and letting users get that content, such as local TV or recorded programs, on laptops and mobile devices anywhere in the world.

To open New York office
The two new executives, who left Viacom at separate times over the summer, represent the Sling Media Entertainment Group and will open Sling's first New York office. There, they will work to convince media companies about ways the company can work with them.

Despite talk of Sling's so-called disruptive place-shifting technology, it can really help increase a network's audience, said Mr. Hirschhorn, who touts an emotional connection with his Slingbox "like I have with my iPod." He pointed out that media is in the time-spent-viewing business and Sling helps people spend more time with their TV programs by making them accessible anywhere.

"That means more advertising can be sold, subscriptions can be sold and content can be bought," he said. "Media will take up more of an audience member's time than ever before." (Any home in the Nielsen Media Research sample using a Slingbox still would be measured.)

Mr. White, formerly VP-digital media at MTV, said that with Sling there's continuity of content across multiple screens -- TV, PC, cellphones, etc. -- which creates a better entertainment experience. But, he said, "consumers are hungry for more innovation and more access to information. We're not focused on original programming but incremental content that can live alongside the TV content that Sling users are already used to."

Melding TV and internet
Sling CEO Blake Kirkorian said that right now that type of interactivity and TV are really fairly detached -- something he hopes to change. "You watch TV and then you go to your PC and Google [what you want to know about a program]," he said. "We said, 'Wait a minute, can't we meld these two together?'"

For years, he said, the talk has been how to bring internet-like interactivity to the TV. "But now we've brought TV to the web. And lots of those interactive opportunities and ideas that we've talked about we can do now." Some of that interactivity and additional content could be vehicles for advertising.

It's unclear what kind of business model an arrangement between Sling and a major media or distribution company would take -- it could be ad-revenue sharing or it could be licensing-type fee. The bigger challenge may be convincing Big Media that the opportunity is greater than the threat.

Understands Big Media's paranoia
Tom Freston, the former Viacom CEO and Mr. Hirschorn's former boss, thinks that if anyone can do it, Messrs. Hirschhorn and White can. "Jason knows the wishes, desires, paranoia and opportunities of major media companies," he said. "He's an entrepreneur who's been with a major media company. ... He's got a unique pedigree."

Sling Media, which completed a $46 million round of funding this past year, has more than 100 employees in offices in its headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., and in its wholly-owned subsidiary in Bangalore, India, along with a few regional domestic sales offices.
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