Sony Promises à la Carte TV

Sony wants to deliver the holy grail of paid television.

On the heels of expanding its existing PlayStation Vue TV service to Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) announced at the annual E3 gaming convention that it will offer pay-TV channels on an à la carte basis to PlayStation customers beginning in July.

The first available à la carte channel will be Showtime, selling for an $11 monthly fee. Fox Soccer Plus will follow in August for $15 per month, and gamer channel Machinima will debut later in the summer for $4 per month. Each station will be available for a $2 monthly discount to PlayStation Plus members.

The à la carte service sounds novel enough until you consider that Sony is only following in the path that programmers have already set. Showtime has previously announced that it will make its programming available on a standalone basis over the web. CBS already offers its CBS All Access digital package online for $6 per month. And HBO is rapidly expanding the availability of its $15-per-month HBO Now service to anyone with an Internet connection. (See Showtime Joins OTT Parade .)

There's also the issue of cost. Creating a bundle of individual channels adds up quickly when those channels start producing Netflix-like price tags. In contrast, Sling TV from Dish offers a compelling line-up of content from multiple programmers for only $20 per month. Add-on content packs for Sling TV are available for an additional monthly fee of $5 each. (See Sony & Dish – Two Sides of a Coin.)

Want to know more about the impact of web services on the pay-TV sector? Check out our dedicated OTT services content channel here on Light Reading.

As for Sony's bundled PlayStation Vue service -- which was already launched in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia -- it suffers from pricing issues as well. While the over-the-top offering includes most of the broadcast networks and numerous cable channels, it costs anywhere between $50 and $70 per month. Those numbers start to get close to a traditional cable TV package, and the PlayStation Vue service is still missing channels owned by Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) including ABC and ESPN. (See Sony Goes OTT With PlayStation Vue.)

The promise of online and à la carte TV has always been greater choice and flexibility. Those benefits are still on the table, but they won't come cheap.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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