Has PlayStation Vue Got Game?

Rather than focus on the so-called “skinny bundle” and attempt to undercut traditional pay TV provider pricing, Sony is targeting a coveted, much larger demographic with a heavier offering that will weave in several bells and whistles, including a fancy cloud-based interface and a massive cloud DVR.

The no-contract service, called PlayStation Vue, launched last Wednesday (March 18) in three markets — Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. It’s starting off with three tiers that deliver a mix of at least 85 broadcast and cable channels per market: an entry-level “Access” tier for $49.99 per month that includes the broadcast feeds of CBS, Fox, NBC, Cozi TV, MyNetwork, Exitos and Telemundo; a “Core” service that factors in regional sports channels for $59.99 per month; and an “Elite” service for $69.99 per month that includes all of Access and Core, plus more than two dozen additional lifestyle, music and family-themed channels. Subscribers still need broadband to get PS Vue in the door.

While Sony was able to lock in deals with AMC Networks and Turner in time for the launch, still missing in action are ESPN and ABC, as well as premium channels HBO, Starz, Showtime and Epix.

Sony is in distribution talks with Disney and several other programmers, Dwayne Benefield, vice president and head of PS Vue, said in a briefing in New York. He said Sony expects to launch the service to more markets later this year.

While Dish Network’s new Sling TV service and one reportedly being developed by Apple are lightweight bundles tailored for cord-cutters, Sony is also targeting 18-34 year-old gamers, a coveted demographic that includes many who already take a pay TV service.

“We think the service appeals to both groups,” Benefield said. During the beta trial, PS Vue users averaged three hours per session, he said. But PS Vue might need to differentiate itself more from the legacy multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) competition, Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst of Leichtman Research Group, said. “It appears to be a traditional TV service with a different delivery.”

Leichtman said he believes the service will appeal most to the so-called “cord-nevers” who have eschewed TV offerings from telcos, MSOs and satellite providers.

The cord-never market also is getting more challenging as cable operators try to attract new customers with low-cost introductory bundles.

For example, Comcast, which will compete with PS Vue in Philadelphia and Chicago, is pitching a “starter” triple-play package that includes more than 140 digital channels via its X1 platform, 25-Mbps broadband and voice service for $89.99 per month. The catch is that the price is good for 12 months, and customers must make a two-year commitment.

Sony’s service will also have to contend with usage-based broadband policies. Comcast currently has no such policies in place in Chicago or Philadelphia, but in select markets, including Atlanta, it’s testing a plan that applies a soft monthly cap of 300 Gigabytes per month. When customers exceed that threshold, they are subject to a charge of $10 for each additional bucket of 50 GB.

To avoid that, Sony, along with HBO and Showtime, have held talks with Comcast and other MVPDs about delivering video over managed IP connections that don’t mix with spectrum dedicated to high-speed Internet services, The Wall Street Journal reported. In recent years, Apple has held similar talks with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global, multiple industry sources told Multichannel News.

Quick Facts About the PS Vue’s Debut

Markets: New York, Chicago and Philadelphia

Supported Devices: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles, with the iPad on deck. Sony plans to extend access to connected devices within and outside of its product ecosystem, but has not yet identified them. One possible candidate is the PlayStation TV, a $99 gaming/streaming device that debuted in North America last fall.

Navigation: Cloud-based interface offers several ways for users to browse for and find programming, including “My Shows” and “My Channels” features that create personalized lists of favorites that can be pinned to the screen by clicking on the controller’s “R1” button. The UI also comes with an algorithmic recommendation engine and a “Featured Shows”listing curated by Sony and its network partners.

More Video: PS Vue features a VOD library, a “look back” service for prior episodes of certain TV series, and a cloud DVR that will allow users to record up to 500 individual programs for up to 28 days.