Sony has officially entered its starting lineup in the over-the-top TV game with the launch of PlayStation Vue. But it’s taking the field without sports Goliath ESPN — the biggest cable net in the biz — and the service also is missing ABC and other Disney-owned channels.
Unlike Dish Network’s Sling TV, the satcaster’s stripped-down, $20-per-month service targeted at cost-sensitive consumers, PlayStation Vue is designed to be a full replacement for traditional cable and satellite TV — but, supposedly, with a more personalized view into what to watch.
At launch, Sony’s service offers more than 85 channels in its top tier, including local broadcast channels (with the notable exception of ABC, at this point) as well as regional sports networks. It also includes a cloud-based DVR that stores an unlimited number of recordings for 28 days.
Amit Nag, head of business for Sony PlayStation Vue, said the company continues to talk to Disney/ESPN as well as other potential programming partners about adding their networks to the service. The service does not include premium networks like HBO or Showtime, either.
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“This is not an overnight thing,” Nag said. “We felt we had a lineup that was ready to launch.” A rep for the Disney-ESPN distribution group said, “We are always talking to all our partners about new ways to distribute our programming but we don’t get into specifics with each.”
To be sure, PlayStation Vue is populated with a broad range of live and on-demand TV content from broadcast and cable partners. Sony has deals with CBS, Discovery Communications, Fox, Comcast’s NBCUniversal, Scripps Networks Interactive, Turner Broadcasting, Viacom and AMC Networks (with AMC’s four channels to be available next month).
PlayStation Vue is available in three packages: Access, for $49.99 per month, with about 50 of the most popular channels; Core ($59.99), which adds local sports channels in select markets like YES Network in the New York market and Comcast SportsNet in Chicago; and Elite ($69.99), which offers Sony’s full complement of 85-plus channels.
That pricing may — or may not — be attractive to Sony’s intended demographic of gamers, compared with other pay-TV services. But the company believes one key element that will draw customers to PlayStation Vue is its advanced guide, which lets users easily organize and record their favorite shows and recommends content based viewing habits and what’s trending.
“The frustration for cable TV customers is, ‘I don’t know what’s on TV right now — I don’t know what to watch,'” said Dan Myers, head of product for PlayStation Vue. “That was the question that really kicked us off in developing this.”
Though it’s unclear how successful Sony’s OTT play will be — especially without ESPN or ABC — it has plenty of company. In addition to Dish’s Sling TV, Verizon plans to launch a mobile Internet TV service with up to 30 channels later this year, and Apple reportedly has its sights set on a fall 2015 debut of an over-the-top television service.
With the current lineup, PlayStation Vue offers 2.1 years’ worth of programming to watch either live or on-demand at any given time. So providing customized search and discovery tools to find TV content was essential to the experience, Nag said.
Another difference with traditional pay-TV: Once viewers tag a favorite show using the DVR feature, they will automatically have access to all episodes of that show for 28 days, without any storage limits. About 99% of test users said they watch DVR content within three weeks, according to Nag.
The service has tested well, according to Sony, with 90% of PlayStation Vue beta testers giving the service a very positive rating. However, it should be noted that they weren’t paying anything during the trial, which kicked off last November.
Sony recommends a minimum 10-megabit-per-second Internet connection for the service. “PS users are heavy broadband users,” Myers said.
Initially, PlayStation Vue is available only on PlayStation 4s and PS3s; per Sony, there are 35 million of those in use across the U.S. Sony said support for Apple’s iPad will be coming shortly, and that additional markets will be added in the coming months. The service will be free to try out for seven-day period. For each PlayStation Vue account, users can simultaneously stream content on up to three consoles (although only on one PS4 at any given time) in the same home at no additional charge.
The current programming partners and channels available for PlayStation Vue are:
- CBS: Owned-and-operated stations in select markets in addition to on-demand primetime programming;
- Discovery: Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, Science, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Velocity and 11 others;
- Fox: Owned-and-operated television stations, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild, plus Fox Sports’ national and regional programming services (Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, BTN and Fox’s regional sports networks, including YES Network and Prime Ticket);
- Fox News Networks: Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network;
- NBCU: Local TV stations, Telemundo and regional sports networks as well as Bravo, CNBC, E!, NBCSN, Oxygen, Sprout, Syfy, USA Network and other cablers;
- Scripps Networks Interactive: HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network and Cooking Channel;
- Turner: TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, CNN, Boomerang, Turner Classic Movies, HLN and TruTV;
- Viacom: BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Palladia, Spike, VH1 and others;
- AMC Networks: AMC, IFC, Sundance and WE tv (to be available next month).