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Holes in Sony’s Internet TV Lineup: No ESPN, ABC, HBO or Turner Networks

Would you pay for a cable TV service that doesn’t have ABC, ESPN, TNT, TBS, Disney Channel, HBO or History?

Those popular networks — and more — are currently missing from Sony’s allegedly revolutionary new Internet-delivered TV service, which it’s set to begin testing this month in four U.S. markets for PlayStation game console users (with support for Apple’s iPad and other devices coming later).

The forthcoming PlayStation Vue cloud-based TV service “reinvents the traditional television viewing experience,” Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, boasted in announcing the service.

Sony’s over-the-top TV service will deliver “unprecedented personalization and simplicity,” House continued. Features include recommendations of movies and TV shows based on users’ viewing habits and what’s trending; a “smart” search feature to narrow down results; and the ability to access the past three days of popular programming on-demand, without the need to schedule recordings.

To be sure, Sony has landed pacts with several big programmers: CBS, Discovery Communications, Fox, NBCUniversal and Scripps Networks Interactive. The company said PlayStation Vue will launch with about 75 channels in each test market. And the company said it expects “additional (content) partners to be announced in the future.”

But for many consumers, no amount of gee-whiz factor will overcome the absence of five of the six top-rated cable networks, as well as ABC.

At launch, Sony does not have an OTT distribution deal with Disney, which would cover ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel and other nets, although the media conglom has been in discussions with the consumer-electronics giant about a distribution pact. It’s worth noting that Disney/ESPN cut a deal for OTT rights with Dish Network earlier this year, which is planning to launch its Internet TV service by the end of 2014.

Also absent from Sony’s PlayStation Vue are Time Warner’s HBO or Turner Broadcasting, whose channels include TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies, as well as smaller programmers such as A+E Networks (A&E, History, Lifetime and others) and AMC Networks.

It’s possible Sony will be able to clinch deals with Disney/ESPN, Turner and others before it launches in the first quarter of 2015. But for now, there are no guarantees that will happen.

So, how much is Sony expecting people to shell out to watch TV on their PlayStations?

The company isn’t saying just yet, explaining that it will disclose pricing and packaging details when it launches PlayStation Vue commercially next year. What Sony did say — in an attempt to delineate its approach from cable, satellite and telco TV incumbents — was that it would charge a “fair and competitive price…  with no hidden fees or charges,” as well as no contract obligation and no equipment or installation charges.

Meanwhile, Sony’s OTT service is mainly targeted at people who own Sony devices. The company says there are 35 million active PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 consoles in the U.S.; Sony promises support for more connected devices, but for now it’s confined to PlayStation fans.

For the record, here’s a breakdown of what PlayStation Vue currently is set to include:

  • CBS: Live linear signal from CBS Television Network’s owned-and-operated TV stations in select markets in addition to on-demand primetime programming;
  • Discovery: Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, Science, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Family Channel and 11 others, as well as digital entertainment from Discovery Digital Networks and Animal Planet L!ve;
  • Fox: Linear feeds of Fox’s owned-and-operated TV stations; Fox Networks Group’s national entertainment programming services, including FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild; and Fox Sports’ Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, BTN, and regional sports networks including YES Network and Prime Ticket;
  • NBCUniversal: Local channels from NBC stations, Telemundo and regional sports networks as well as Bravo, CNBC, E!, NBCSN, Oxygen, Sprout, Syfy, USA Network and others;
  • Scripps: HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network and Cooking Channel; and
  • Viacom: BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Palladia, Spike, VH1 and others.

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