Sony wowed the audience at E3, the annual video game conference happening this week in LA, when the company announced that it would start to sell some of the TV channels on its new PlayStation Vue internet TV service individually.
That means that people who subscribe to PlayStation Vue, which is only available to those with PlayStation 3 and 4 game consoles — and who live in one of the five cities where it’s currently offered — will be able to buy some TV channels a la carte, instead of having to buy a huge bundle of channels that likely includes many they don’t watch.
This model of television — where consumers only pay for the channels they want — has been the dream of TV watchers for years. The average TV home in the US watches only 17 channels, but subscribes to nearly 200 of them, according to a report last year by the measurement company Nielsen.
But paying for TV a la carte, as observers have noted in the past, looks like it’s going to add up very quickly, at least when it comes to Sony’s service. Take the pricing for the three channels that Sony announced, for instance: Showtime, at $US10.99 per month, Fox Soccer Plus, at $US14.99 per month, and Machinima, a gaming-centric network, for $US3.99 per month.
If you were only to subscribe to those three channels, you’d be paying $US30 per month, just for those three. That’s unlikely, of course, but it’s certainly a lot to pay for three channels when you can get 50 from Sony for $US49.99.
(People who subscribe to PlayStation Plus, the company’s premium network, will get discounts of $US2 per channel when they buy a la carte.)
To be sure, the channels that Sony’s offering a la carte should be thought of as premium add-on channels, not core channels that would usually come as part of a basic bundle.
But Andrew House, PlayStation president and group CEO, still made a point of saying that it was “the first paid TV service to allow users to subscribe to individual channels without the purchase of a multi-channel bundle.”
Sony’s three bundles — which are priced at $US49.99, $US59.99, and $US69.99 — don’t include any of the three channels the company is offering a la carte.
Sony says that it will offer more a la carte channels in the future, but it remains to be seen whether the company will include any of the channels that are part of the company’s bundles now, thereby “unbundling” its own packages.
A Sony spokesperson declined to provide any detail as far as what those channels would be, how much they’d cost, and when they’d become available.
But as Phillip Swann, a TV industry consultant who runs the site TVPredictions.com, wrote Tuesday, the cost of paying by the channel has the potential to balloon quickly if Sony is charging $US15 per month for a soccer channel: “For example, the local channels could go for $US5 or $US6 a month; CBS now charges $US5.99 for a separate online edition. CNN? Maybe $US4 a month? Basic cable channels such as TBS and TNT? Maybe $US5 each?”
Swann goes on to write that once you start including local sports channels, you “could wind up paying nearly $US100 a month, or more,” just for about 20 channels.
Sony’s announcement comes as the entertainment industry tries to grapple with the changing way that people watch TV. Americans are watching less traditional TV and ratings are down. Subscriptions to traditional pay TV operators are also down as people turn to standalone services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now to get their video entertainment.
Sony’s announcement also comes as an increasing number of networks, like Showtime, Nickelodeon, and CBS, begin to offer standalone streaming services to reach people who subscribe to internet but don’t pay for TV.
So for most people, the dream of paying only for the channels you want to watch, for now, remains just a dream. Unless, of course, you have a PlayStation 3 or 4 and live in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and you only want to subscribe to Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, or Machinima.