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Sling TV lost 100,000 subscribers in the first three months of 2021

Sling TV
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

Dish — the parent company of Sling TV — released its financials for the first quarter of 2021 this week, ending two straight quarters of meager growth for what once was the biggest streaming service in the United States.

Sling TV had 2.374 million subscribers as of March 31, 2021. While that's up from 2.311 million from the same period in 2020 — at the start of the global pandemic that kept most of the United States indoors for the year and streaming more than ever — it's a drop of 100,000 subscribers for the first three months of the year.

The "good" news, if there's any to be had, is that it's only a drop of about 4 percent. Sling TV also saw a drop from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020, with that period shedding about 10 percent of its subscribers. So it's not great, but it was worse a year ago.

By comparison, Hulu With Live TV (which is on a different corporate calendar) last reported 4 million paid subscribers for the first quarter of its fiscal 2021. Google doesn't give precise numbers on YouTube TV subscriptions, but it last reported more than 3 million subscribers in September 2020.

Sling TV noted a high of 2.686 million subscribers back in the third quarter of 2019.

Sling TV continues to face stiff competition not just from Hulu With Live TV and YouTube TV, but also from upstarts like FuboTV, which — while a fraction of the size of the Big 3 — has seen higher percentages of growth. It last reported some 547,880 subscribers and is due for an update in May.

Sling TV also does things differently than its competitors. Instead of just one or two plans, it has a pair of tracks — Sling Orange and Sling Blue. They cost $35 each, or $50 if you get both. They have some channels that overlap both plans, but really you'll have to get both for fuller coverage. From there, you build out the rest of your service with "Extras," which add on additional channels in categories like news and sports and entertainment. 

It's as close as we get to true a la carte streaming TV in the United States, but it also means it's easy to quickly reach and surpass the $65-a-month price of Hulu and YouTube TV and FuboTV, if you're not paying attention.