In December, we reported that Sony would soon offer a 75-channel streaming TV service called PlayStation Vue. Now Sony released new details about Vue containing both good and not-so-good news. The good news is that Vue will offer more channels than previously announced. The not-so-good news is that the price is considerably more than the already-available SLING TV and even many cable and satellite plans. Now that we have the full picture, how does Vue fit in to the current state of cord cutting? A Better Vue? Sony will offer three different Vue streaming plans. The basic Access plan provides 55 channels for $49.99 per month. The mid-level Core package adds seven additional channels, including IFC, the Sundance Channel, and TCM, for $59.99 per month. The top-level plan, named Elite, increases the channel count to 88 for a price of $69.99 per month. Vue might not be right for hardcore sports fans. The ABC family of channels isn’t available on Vue, and meaning that none of the ESPN channels or Disney channels is present. For many potential subscribers, those absences could be immediate deal-breakers. Cost is a likely culprit: ESPN is the most expensive basic cable channel for providers. But Vue could be the right choice for many others, like gamers who already own PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles and fast Internet connections to support their gaming hobby. This younger demographic is valuable to advertisers, which could help Sony lure even more channels to Vue, and maybe even lower per-channel costs in the process. How do Other Streaming Services Stack Up? Compared to Vue’s three tiers of programming, SLING TV starts with a small 21-channel package for $20 and offers five different upgrade packages featuring sports, movies, lifestyle, news, and children’s’ channels. Add every package and you’ll end up with 53 channels for $45 per month, making the full SLING TV service comparable to Vue’s Access plan. But even the basic SLING package includes two ESPN channels, making it the likely choice for sports-loving cord-cutters. SLING’s modular approach also makes sense for people who only want certain kinds of programming. They can add movies without adding kids’ programming, or vice versa. It’s closer to the a la carte model that many consumers seem to want, but it’s still not quite there. However, if you’re after the most channels and are willing to pay more for them, Vue is the clear winner. For the time being at least, no other streaming service offers more of the channels currently available on cable or satellite. Rumors suggest that Apple will launch its own streaming service in the summer or fall, and that it will probably offer 25 channels for $30-40. However, there aren’t any details yet, so it’s hard to make a solid comparison. With that said, it’s probably not going to be the best choice unless you enjoy Apple devices like the iPad, iPhone, or Apple TV. Vue’s Edge on Cable If it isn’t any cheaper than cable, how will Vue attract subscribers? One common source of frustration among cord cutters is the fact that many cable and satellite TV plans require long-term contracts and early termination fees to opt out. Vue doesn’t—nor does SLING TV, for that matter—so even though Vue isn’t any cheaper than many cable plans, some customers might find that convenience and flexibility a deciding factor. Connection Requirements Compared to cable, streaming customers have to pay the extra cost of Internet access to receive TV programming. But let’s be honest: everyone’s already paying for that anyway, so it’s not a big deal. In terms of speeds, Sony recommends 3-5 Mbps for a single streaming connection. Multiple streams, for families watching on more than one device at the same time, should look for a plan offering at least 25 Mbps. SLING TV offers no speed recommendations aside from saying that if Hulu and Netflix work well with your current plan, so will SLING. No matter what streaming service interests you, all cord cutters should think about how well their current Internet plans would support that plan. If you don’t think your current plan is good enough, find a better one now so that when your streaming service of choice is available, you’re ready for it. [zipfinder] Photo Credit: TechTimes There are more ways than ever to watch big-name, quality video programming online. In addition to streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, cable networks HBO, Starz, and Showtime announced they’d soon begin online streaming-only subscriptions. Now Sony is planning a streaming service, PlayStation Vue, which will offer online viewers a network of 75 popular TV channels. Popular Channels and Features Included Unlike individual channels going online, Sony will be delivering content from multiple providers, just as cable and satellite TV companies do. Although Sony hasn’t published a full list of channels, they do mention Viacom channels like Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, and Nickelodeon will be included. They’ve also mentioned Discovery Networks, including Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet, as well as local CBS, FOX, and NBC channels. The Cloud-based service will include On Demand and DVR capabilities, with no storage limit for the latter. There will be a recorded library of popular programming so when you forget to watch and/or record something, you can still see it. The Details Initial testing of PlayStation Vue will soon begin for an invitation-only list of PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 owners. But it’s not just for gamers, as Sony intends to make the service available on other devices, specifically mentioned was the iPad. Pricing isn’t currently set, but Sony indicated its pricing will be transparent, without hidden fees, equipment to purchase, or introductory rates that expire and then go up. And subscribers will pay month-by-month instead of signing up for a contract. Full details should come with the commercial launch in early 2015. On the Other Hand Vue isn’t going to be the answer to everyone’s question. Much like satellite TV providers, it’s not the end of cable, just an alternative. Nor is Vue the a la carte channel option that so many have asked for; subscribers will still be paying for at least a few channels they won’t be watching. It could also face potential bandwidth throttling by Internet providers, which already happened to Netflix. There’s no doubt any new twist on an existing model faces new challenges, but as the satellite providers found success, so could Sony. After all, it developed the most popular game console of all time, and it’s one of the companies that pioneered the compact disc. Sony knows how to disrupt established technologies. Can We Still Call it “Watching TV”? Pretty soon, studios and other content creators will need a new word to describe video content originally designed for TV, but not actually watched on one. It’s a question that will be asked more often as more video viewing shifts online. If PlayStation Vue ends up a success, other competitors will try to match it. If it fails, new companies will try to succeed in its place. The success of streaming video and music services does show a definite trend for traditional offline content going online, so why not TV? You’ll Still Need a Fast Connection PlayStation Vue will deliver the content, but subscribers will still need an Internet connection capable of maintaining seamless playback and picture quality. If you like the idea of watching your favorite shows online, but you don’t think your current plan is good enough, it’s time to see what other plans are out there. Image by David Wulff/Flickr [zipfinder] Sony and Apple might have a lot more in common than you think. Both companies have operated in electronics and media for years. Both companies have continually-updated flagship products: the iPhone and the PlayStation. Apple’s and Sony’s consumer offerings converge on their core products in an increasingly-cohesive ecosystem. More surprising than the similarities is that Sony and Apple have so far avoided direct competition. The PlayStation TV might not look like a competitor to the iPhone, but the foundation it lays could set up a new competing ecosystem for consuming media. The Ecosystem Model A recent Forbes article by David Amerland outlines the ecosystem model for integrated product marketing. The ecosystem model focuses on generating long term customers by integrating its products to create an environment and culture in which users feel comfortable. Ludwig Kietzmann, Editor in Chief of Joystiq.com, seemed to describe PlayStation as an ecosystem in a quote from our recent PlayStation TV article on highspeedinternet.com. “Sony is sure to leverage the content it has with its TV and movie studios – they’re making those products anyway, so why not use them to leverage the PlayStation brand? Sony as a business has taken several steps over the years to make its fractured departs more coherent, and popular entertainment is a connective tissue between the PlayStation platform, their televisions, phones and creative studios. This is the same company that used the Spider-Man font for the PlayStation 3, remember?” Is Sony implementing the ecosystem model with its PlayStation brand? In his Forbes article, Amerland outlines the formula for creating an ecosystem using four points; Convenience, Empowerment, Integration, and Freedom. The article cited Apple, along with Amazon and Google, as an example of an ecosystem done right. They integrate their services and make it convenient to buy. The combined functionality empowers users to do things faster, but provides enough freedom to use non-ecosystem products like Google’s mail or maps apps. Let’s explore how Sony uses these concepts with PlayStation. Convenience The convenience aspect of creating an ecosystem is really about getting out of your customers’ way. As Amberland puts it, “The best companies work hard to make themselves invisible.” With the PlayStation Network, Sony took away the barriers to downloading games. They don’t make you visit an external website. When you sit down at your console, you can download what you want to play without letting go of the controller. Convenience – check! Empowerment Amberland describes empowerment as letting customers “do more, do it faster, and do it better.” PlayStation TV definitely qualifies. Sony Computer Entertainment recently announced it will release PlayStation TV in America in late 2014. With its ability to stream PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 games, PlayStation TV gives users more games to play without worrying about compatibility issues. Empowerment – check! Integration The integration element is actually about seamless expansion. Amberland cites Amazon as an example, “Amazon has digital services that range from cloud storage to publishing—it constantly expands its activities to offer more.” PlayStation TV also fulfills this ecosystem element. When used in conjunction with PlayStation 4, PlayStation TV gives gamers the ability to play their PS4 games remotely. It also provides streaming to any Sony-brand TV. Integration – check!   Freedom Amberland says the freedom element is more about creating the “illusion of freedom, by making consumers voluntarily stay.” He goes on to explain that when consumers feel trapped by a brand they can give the brand a bad reputation on social media. Gaming consumers are free to choose a different console, but it won’t work (at least not as well) with PlayStation TV, the PlayStation Network, or have the same functionality with Sony TVs. One big question is whether customers will be constrained by Sony music and movies. Customers will likely demand broader offerings to buy into the ecosystem, and it remains to be seen whether Sony can provide diversity. Freedom – too early to call   Brand Dependence Based on the criteria laid out in Forbes, Sony, like Apple could leverage the ecosystem marketing strategy for its PlayStation line of products. Despite PlayStation’s 12-year lead on the iPhone, questions remain about whether companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon have put too much distance between themselves and Sony. Consumers only have room for a few ecosystems in their lives. With success or disaster looming, Sony needs to understand that no one wants half a media library with PlayStation and half with iTunes or Prime.  So, by adopting the ecosystem, Sony may look to boost its media offerings and that could in turn give a bigger boost to its gaming platform. The ecosystem model clearly works, but the strategy can be perceived as either genius or disingenuous. The next iPhone doesn’t have to be the best phone on the market for you to buy it, it just has to work better with all of the other Apple products you already have. The next PlayStation console may not be as good as the next Xbox, but it might work better with the rest of the Sony gear you already use. A successful ecosystem strategy will give customers the “illusion of freedom,” but create dependence rather than independence. So… Happy Dependence Day, Sony! [zipfinder]
Photo: Sony Find John on Google+ With the release of PlayStation TV, PlayStation carves out a unique position for themselves in the streaming market. Could this new market distract PlayStation from its focus on gamers? Recently, at E3, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. President and Group CEO, Andrew House, stated PlayStation’s vision remains focused on gaming. “Our vision is grounded in an uncompromising commitment to gamers that insures PlayStation is, above all else, the best place to play,” House said. The release of PlayStation TV seems to be at the very least expanding that vision if not redirecting it. The name PlayStation TV itself suggest the device is for streaming TV shows. Sony has thousands of titles available to stream using this system and the advertised price for PlayStation TV is only $99 as opposed to the $400–$500 range for a PlayStation 4. With the price and selection PlayStation TV is sure to have a broad appeal for the streaming ability alone, plus gamers can use it to play old games without compatibility issues. Although PlayStation TV can be used on its own to stream some PS, PS2, and PS3 games from the PlayStation Now catalogue, or in conjunction with your PlayStation 4 to play games from your main console on a different television, comments from the Editor-in-chief of Joystiq.com, Ludwig Kietzmann, suggest we should look at PS TV as a streaming device you can use to play games instead of a gaming device on which you can stream videos. “PlayStation TV is an interesting device in the same category as the Apple TV and the Amazon Fire TV, but I wonder if consumers will take advantage of it fully,”Kietzmann told highspeedinternet.com. “For someone who wants a cheap streaming box and wants to dabble in the occasional PS3 game—which they’ll be able to rent and stream through PlayStation Now and play with a decent controller—the PlayStation TV might have an edge over competitors in the same space.” Looking at PlayStation TV as a streaming device with gaming as a secondary function may give it an advantage over other streaming devices, but seems to contradict PlayStation’s game-focused message. So, why isn’t PlayStation getting the same type of backlash from gamers Xbox got when it tried moving into the multi-platform arena? Editor-in-chief of kotaku.com, Stephen Totilo, told us it goes back to the marketing message from the PlayStation 4. “I don’t know of many gamers who dislike when their consoles can play movies or music. I just constantly hear that gaming is the thing they most want their consoles to excel at,” Totilo said. “Sony has shown, from the get-go, that the PS4 will be a gaming-first machine, and that has spared them a lot of backlash. Microsoft designed the Xbox One to do a lot with TV programming—everything from letting a cable box plug into the console to letting you do picture-in-picture displays of your cable feed while playing a game. All that is pretty cool, but Microsoft’s choice to focus on that when they revealed the Xbox One, all the while announcing some gaming policies that seemed to interfere with how gamers wanted to access their next-gen games, was what gave them a lot of aggravation. Microsoft is finally recovering from that, happily. Sony hasn’t had to dig itself out of that kind of hole.” Kietzmann agrees with Totilo. “The difference between PlayStation 4 and Xbox One isn’t as tremendous as it seems, but this stems from how the systems were announced. Microsoft positioned their hardware as a home for TV, games and sports right away, making it an inexorable part of that system’s identity. But players thought they were being asked to pay extra for that functionality in a $500 system. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 also has music, movies and TV, but with much less emphasis from the executives. There’s less backlash in the case of PlayStation because Sony is always sure to shout GAMING just a bit louder than anything else.” PlayStation may be shouting “gaming,” but their actions are sending mixed messages. Following in the footsteps of Netflix, PlayStation has already begun production on an original streaming series, Powers, that will be available exclusively on PlayStation Now. Although more original series may follow, Totilo thinks this is just Sony being Sony. “Powers is a pretty good comic book series and has a shot at being a pretty good show, so I think that specific project has a good chance at being worth everyone’s time,” Totilo said. “I don’t think this is a big change of pace for a company that in the previous generation also tried to bring some of Sony Entertainment to Sony PlayStation. I just think that what they’re doing now is smarter than, say, using the Spider-Man movie font on the PS3.” Kietzmann says Powers in particular will work because it could appeal to gamers. “A serial drama drawing from graphic novels and superheroes does seem like a good fit for what they presume are the interests of the gaming audience, so trotting that out as an exclusive is a good idea—in theory.” Gamers seem to have no problems with PlayStation expanding its presence in the streaming realm as long as gaming remains the focus. But while PlayStation talks about gaming, it continues to expand its scope.  Kietzmann says that’s just good business. “Sony is sure to leverage the content it has with its TV and movie studios—they’re making those products anyway, so why not use them to leverage the PlayStation brand? Sony as a business has taken several steps over the years to make its fractured departs more coherent, and popular entertainment is a connective tissue between the PlayStation platform, their televisions, phones and creative studios.” With Sony’s wise decision to emphasize the gaming aspect of the PS4, it seemingly has the freedom to experiment with other platforms without upsetting the gamer community. The association between PlayStation and gaming is so ingrained that Sony is able to pass off a streaming device, PlayStation TV, as a gaming console. Do you think PlayStation is straying too far from gamers? Let us know in the comments. PlayStation recommends 5Mbps minimum bandwidth for its streaming content to work comfortably. Is your Internet fast enough? [zipfinder]
Photo: Sony Find John on Google+
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