Following a beta trial with thousands of invitation-only PlayStation users, Sony has launched PlayStation Vue, its OTT pay-TV service, in three markets – New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Early on, PlayStation Vue, which will grapple with traditional MVPDs, will offer three no-contract service tiers that deliver a mix of least 85 broadcast and cable channels per market – an entry-level “Access” tier for $49.99 per month; a “Core” service that includes local sports channels for $59.99 per month; and an “Elite” service that includes everything in Access and Core, plus more than two dozen additional channels (see further below for more detail).
Sony will tie all of that content into a cloud-based, media-rich user interface that provides users with a wide range of options to help subscribers find and browse content (more on this further below). Sony will let new, qualified users try PS Vue for free for seven days.
PlayStation Vue is starting off with a lineup that includes the local broadcast feeds of CBS, Fox and NBC. Absent in the early going is ABC, ESPN and other channels from the Walt Disney family, but Sony is currently in distribution talks with Disney and other programmers, Sony execs said in a recent briefing in New York. Sony's discussions are also expected to encompass possible distribution of HBO Now, the new standalone OTT service from the premium programmer that will launch initially on Apple devices, and later become available to Cablevision Systems broadband customers.
In addition to live TV, PlayStation Vue is offering a big VOD library, a “lookback” service for prior episodes of some TV series, and a cloud DVR that will allow users to record up to 500 individual programs. Any show recorded to the cloud DVR will be available for 28 days. Sony said it plans to add dynamic ad insertion capabilities to the PS Vue platform.
At launch, which comes as March Madness gets underway, Sony is offering PlayStation Vue in those initial three markets as a downloadable app for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. According to Sony, there are 35 million PS3s and PS4s in U.S. homes.
Sony will extend PlayStation Vue to the iPad “soon,” and plans to “branch out to other popular streaming devices,” Dwayne Benefield, vice president and head of PlayStation Vue, said, noting that the goal is to make the service “platform agnostic.” He declined to say which other platforms are on the PS Vue’s near-term target list.
Because it’s delivered over-the-top rather than via a managed IP connection, PS Vue video will rely on adaptive bit rate technology, a technique that enables the bit rate and resolution to fluctuate based on the available bandwidth. Sony recommends a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps, and believes that most of its users already subscribe to a service tier that meets that.
Contractually, there is no limit to the number of streams PS Vue can deliver to an individual subscriber’s home, though at launch the service will be limited to three consoles (and only one PS4 at any given time), but expects to that number to rise as Sony adds more devices to the mix, Amit Nag, head of business for PlayStation Vue, said.
While Sling TV, Dish Network’s new OTT-TV single-stream service is targeted mostly at cord-cutters, Sony is going after those as well as 18-34 year-old gamers, a group that includes many who are already taking a pay-TV service.
“We think the service appeals to both groups,” Benefield said, noting that most PlayStation users are already “heavy media consumers.”
Even with that wider net being cast, Sony is entering a saturated pay-TV market that has not kept pace with new housing formation, according to a recent report from MoffettNathanson. The top 13 pay-TV providers in the U.S., representing 95% of the market, lost about 125,000 net video subs in 2014, according to Leichtman Research Group.
But Sony is looking to bring everything together in one place. PlayStation Vue will also live alongside the other functions of the PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles, which include access to over-the-top apps from sources such as Hulu and Netflix, games and Sony’s music service and transactional video store, without having to change HDMI inputs.
“The goal is to make it the ultimate digital destination,” Benefield said.
During the beta trial, PS Vue users averaged three hours per session, he said.
As it locks in more local broadcast channels, Sony plans to introduce PlayStation Vue in more markets later this year. Los Angeles was a market identified by Sony back in November.
One way PS Vue will try to set itself apart is through its multi-faceted user interface, which features a number of ways viewers can find and browse for content, with the goal of helping users find something they like in three clicks or less.
A “My Shows” and “My Channels” feature, for example, lets users create a personalized list of favorite programs that can be added and pinned to the screen by clicking on the controller’s “R1” button.
The UI also lets users access a list of shows determined by titles that are popular among PlayStation users, a “Recommended for You” feature that relies on algorithmic data, and a “Featured Shows” element that is curated by Sony and its network partners.
Users can also browse for content using a “progressive filtering” feature that allows users to create a list of programs by selecting specific categories such as animation, comedies, content length, and age rankings.
Programming Tiers & Lineup
At launch here’s how PlayStation Vue’s three product packages stack up:
Access/$49.99 per month
Broadcast: CBS, CBS Plus, Cozi TV, Exitos, FOX, MyNetwork, NBC, and Telemundo.
Networks: Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, Cartoon/Adult Swim, CBS, CMT, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Destination America, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family, DIY, E!, Esquire, Food Network, Fox Business, Fox News Networks, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, FX, FXX, HGTV, HLN, Investigation Discovery, MSNBC, MTV, MTV2, Nat Geo, NBC Sports Network, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, OWN, Oxygen, Science, Spike, Syfy, TBS, TLC, TNT, TruTV, Travel Channel, TV Land, USA Network, VH1. AMC will be available in April.
Core/$59.99 per month
Includes all Access package channels, plus local sports channels for select markets:
Network: BTN, Golf Channel, TCM.
New York only: YES Network.
Philadelphia only: Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Chicago only: Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Elite/$69.99 per month
Includes all channels from Access and Core, plus the following: American Heroes, BET Gospel, Boomerang, Centric, Chiller, Cloo, CMT Pure Country, CNBC World, Cooking Channel, Discovery Fit & Health, FOX College Sports Atlantic, FOX College Sports Central, FOX College Sports Pacific, FXM, LOGO, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, mtvU, Nat Geo Wild, PALLADIA, Sprout, TeenNick, Universal, Velocity, VH1 Classic, VH1 Soul.
Sony is not disclosing how much it spent creating the PlayStation Vue service.