The new PlayStation Vue Slim packages stand to raise the competitive stakes in the OTT space, giving disgruntled cable and satellite TV customers a new option for pay television. Sony’s national OTT play will square off against Dish Network’s Sling TV, which starts at $20 per month, and comes as AT&T gears up to launch DirecTV broadband-delivered pay-TV packages in the fourth quarter of 2016.
The Slim version of PlayStation Vue, starting at $30 per month, will be available in 203 TV designated market areas in the U.S. While that won’t have live local TV, it will provide on-demand next-day access to primetime content from ABC, NBC and Fox; programming from CBS is not available at launch, but will be added in “select TV markets” at a later date.
“We were intent on bringing this valuable service to broader reach as quickly as possible,” said Dwayne Benefield, VP and head of PlayStation Vue for Sony Network Entertainment International. “With the assortment of channels we have now, we feel we are strong alternative to current pay-TV providers and new entrants.”
The full PlayStation Vue service with local TV stations is available only in seven markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami. Sony will continue to negotiate with broadcasters to bring on local live channels to the service, Benefield said.
“For us, it’s about having the right content for what we feel is our target demographic,” Benefield said. “We felt when we launched, the live local broadcasts were paramount, but our customers have been clamoring for these packages – most of the customer service calls that were coming in were, ‘Hey, when is it coming to my city?'”
Sony added ESPN and other Disney channels earlier this month to the OTT package, nearly a year after PlayStation first bowed.
The PlayStation Vue Slim packages are each priced $10 less than the “full” versions that include broadcast stations. Benefield noted that doesn’t mean Sony is paying $10 per month in retransmission fees in those seven markets: “What we are providing to consumers is a tremendous value – there’s not a direct correlation to our cost base,” he said.
The new plans are Access Slim ($29.99 per month), with about 55 channels, including live cable TV, movies and sports channels; Core Slim ($34.99 per month), with 70 channels, including all the channels from Access Slim with the addition of live national and regional sports networks from Fox and Comcast; and Elite Slim ($44.99 per month) featuring all the channels from Core Slim with the addition of top movie and entertainment channels.
Sony’s national TV service provides the same features as the regular PlayStation Vue. Those include “cloud DVR,” allowing thousands of hours of programming to be recorded — 10 times the storage of any DVR in the market today, according to the company — and the ability to watch up to five simultaneous streams (whereas Sling TV is limited to one). Sony also touts the PS Vue interface, search and discovery tools, and the ability to watch popular shows within three days of live airing.
PlayStation Vue customers watch more than five hours of TV and video per day, which tops the average television consumption in the 18-34 demo, according to Benefield. Its target users “want a wide assortment of pay TV channels,” he said, disputing the notion that there’s a preference among millennials for “skinny” bundles. The company is not disclosing the number of subscribers it has for the service.
PlayStation Vue is accessible through PlayStation 4, PS3, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, as well as iPad and iPhone through the PlayStation Vue mobile app. Google Chromecast is also supported via compatible iOS devices.
Current network programmers include AMC Networks, CBS, Discovery Communications, Disney/ABC Television Group, ESPN, Fox, NBCUniversal, Scripps Networks Interactive, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom. Standalone network channels, including Showtime, Machinima and Fox Soccer Plus, are also available to users nationwide as a la carte offerings.
In addition, the PlayStation Vue service includes access to 60-plus TV Everywhere mobile apps and websites from programming partners.
Sony began running national TV ads promoting the new bundles on Sunday, with radio and online ads to roll out this week as well.
Several years ago, when Sony was in the planning stages for the pay-TV offering, execs had concerns about network neutrality — and the company was seeking assurances that broadband Internet service providers wouldn’t throttle or otherwise discriminate against OTT services. At this point, Benefield said, “We feel comfortable that there are regulatory and competitive factors in place” that make it a non-issue.