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Monday, March 23, 2015
Sony Joins Crowd of Online TV Providers
More changes in the cable TV business. Aivars Lode
Eric Pfanner and Takashi Mochizuki
TOKYO—Sony Corp. is ramping up its online TV efforts in the U.S., but will face competition from a number of other companies targeting consumers who don’t have pay-television service.
Andrew House, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, said Wednesday that the company would start commercial operation of the service, called PlayStation Vue, within two weeks in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, following invitation-only tests in those cities. The company plans to roll out the new service nationwide by the end of this year.
Vue is one of several new U.S. services aimed at “cord cutters,” people who have spurned traditional pay-TV services in favor of other forms of entertainment. PlayStation Vue will compete, for example, with Dish Network Corp.’s recently introduced Sling TV, which operates via a range of streaming devices.
Individual TV networks have also been rolling out subscription streaming services, including CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.’s Nickelodeon. CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonvestold an investor conference Wednesday that its service has more than 100,000 subscribers, though he declined to give an exact figure.
This week, Time Warner Inc.’s HBO said it would roll out its stand-alone streaming offering, “HBO Now,” in time for the season premiere next month of its hit “Game of Thrones.”
The challenge for media companies as they roll out these services is to target “cord cutters” and “cord nevers”—young people who never intend to get a pay-TV connection—without enticing existing customers to switch over from traditional services. That would cannibalize the hugely profitable pay-TV business that has driven the profits of every major media conglomerate in recent years.
A number of TV providers have made channels available for PlayStation Vue, including CBS, Viacom, Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox. News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, and 21st Century Fox were until mid-2013 part of the same company.
Sony sees Vue, which currently operates via PS3 and PS4 game consoles, as a way to broaden the appeal of the hardware beyond hard-core gamers. Vue is one of several new features on Sony’s PlayStation Network, including a music streaming service from Spotify AB that replaces Sony’s own music offering.
Sony hasn’t announced pricing of Vue, which the company also plans to make available via Apple iPads. A basic Sling TV package costs $20 a month.
Discussions with other content providers are “ongoing and are moving forward positively,” Mr. House said in an interview. He declined to discuss potential partners, but one big holdout is Walt Disney Co., whose ESPN sports network is popular with a young, videogame-playing demographic.
“We are in discussions but there is nothing to announce at this time,” said an ESPN spokeswoman.
Mr. House said that “even absent ESPN, we are very confident that we have a very robust offering in the sports area with existing partnerships.” PlayStation Vue’s current lineup includes Fox Sports, 21st Century Fox’s sports channel.