Sony is officially launching PlayStation Vue, its much-anticipated streaming alternative to the traditional cable TV package. Offering more than 85 broadcast and cable channels, the monthly subscription service is being rolled out today in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia . Gamers in those cities with a PlayStation 3 or 4 console can sign up immediately for channel bundles ranging from $50-70 per month. Additional cities will be announced later this year and Sony says that PlayStation Vue will soon be available on iPads, with support for set-top boxes from Apple, Roku and Amazon coming “shortly”.
Sony’s version of the cable TV bundle offers a wide array of programming and their intent is clear. “We don’t expect our service to be used alongside a cable service,” says Dwayne T. Benefield, Sony VP and head of Playstation Vue. With 35 million PlayStation users in the US, the majority of whom still subscribe to cable or satellite TV, Sony sees an attractive opportunity to entice part of a highly desirable demographic (18-35-year-old males) away from the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and convert them into recurring video customers.
Sports fans can opt for a $60 per month bundle that adds regional sports networks like YES (New York) and Comcast SportsNet (Philadelphia and Chicago). ESPN (along with other Disney properties like ABC) remains a glaring omission for now. But by reaching distribution deals with carriers of pro franchises like the Yankees, Cubs, Bulls and Phillies, PlayStation Vue provides live home team coverage, a must for many cable subscribers. A $70 per month top-tier bundle brings the channel total to 85 with the addition of several family and lifestyle networks.
None of this sounds much different from a traditional pay TV package, minus the contract commitment and standalone cable box. Where Sony hopes to distinguish itself is in the user experience. Powered by its PlayStation consoles and controllers, all content can be paused or DVR’d, with the latter giving you cloud-hosted access to episodes for 28 days. For shows in syndication, PlayStation Vue will DVR episodes across all available networks. Most, but not all, of the TV programming comes with a three-day window for catch-up viewing. And if you begin watching during the middle of one of these shows you get a brief window (typically double the length of the episode) in which to start it from the beginning.
With this move Sony seeks to differentiate its console from its arch rival, Microsoft’s Xbox One. Both gaming consoles can function as set-top boxes compatible with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. Both offer a selection of movie rentals. And Microsoft just added a live TV option for the Xbox One with the release of an app for Sling TV. Yet while Sling TV, at $20 per month is aimed at users who’d rather save money with a pared down channel bundle, Sony’s offering is clearly aimed at a different audience.
Comcast, with its Xfinity X-series boxes is offering enhanced user interfaces and cloud-based DVR in some markets. A selling point of PlayStation Vue, however, is that it eliminates the need for a standalone cable box (and remote) altogether. Sony’s foray into live TV is really about convenience and usability. It effectively blurs the line between live and on-demand viewing.
PlayStation Vue isn’t an inexpensive mini-bundle for cordcutters on a budget. The reality for consumers is that content costs money, no matter who’s delivering it to you. At $60 a month for the middle tier bundle, along with what you’ll be paying for your Internet connection, switching to Sony as your TV provider isn’t likely to save you any money. The company is betting instead that users will embrace an improved user experience as a value proposition. With PlayStation Vue the electronics giant isn’t looking to change the game but to play it better than the cable guys.