3 Reasons Sony’s PlayStation TV Will Fail

Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) will release the PlayStation TV, a $100 set-top streaming box, in North America and Europe this fall. The device, which will compete against Apple TV, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) Fire TV, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Chromecast, and Roku, was originally released in Japan as the PS Vita TV last November.

PlayStation TV. Source: Sony.

The key difference between the PlayStation TV and other set-top boxes is that it offers a video game experience beyond casual games. The PlayStation TV acts as a larger screen for handheld PS Vita and PSP games, and allows the player to play a PS4 from another TV in the house. The PlayStation TV will also eventually be able to stream PS1, PS2, and PS3 games via PlayStation Now's subscription-based cloud streaming service.

While that package certainly sounds pretty feature-rich for $100, Sony is overlooking three key reasons that the device could fail in the U.S.

1. Plenty of features but no clear focus
The main problem with the PlayStation TV is that it's unclear who the device is designed for.

If it is targeting the streaming media device market, there are much cheaper options -- Google's Chromecast only costs $35, while the Roku starts at $50. The Chromecast can also mirror the screen of an Android device or a PC. Meanwhile, Amazon's Fire TV, which also costs $100, offers a clearer package -- customers can simply stream media and play Android games on their TVs. There's no confusion about accessing consoles over networks or streaming games off the cloud.

The PlayStation TV appeals to a fairly narrow group of customers -- those who have a PlayStation 4, own more than one TV, and are in the market for another media streaming device. PSP and PS Vita owners interested in playing their handheld games on the big screen might be interested as well, but the PlayStation TV notably doesn't support titles that use the touch screen, rear touch pad, motion sensors, camera, electronic compass, or microphone.

2. It already flopped once in Japan
Meanwhile, the PlayStation TV has already flopped in Japan as the PS Vita TV. According to industry tracker Media Create, the PS Vita TV sold 42,172 units during its first week on the market back in November. In the second week, sales plummeted 82% to 7,686 units. In the week ending on June 8, sales trickled in at a mere 1,193 units.

What's disappointing about Japanese sales of the PS Vita TV is that its sales haven't been helped by relatively strong sales of the PS Vita, which sold 11,450 units that same week. The PS Vita has sold 8.3 million units since December 2011, with 35% of sales coming from Japan.

The PS Vita TV's sales could also have been dragged down by poor sales of the PS4, which was outsold by Nintendo's 3DS LL, the Wii U, and the PS Vita in Japan during that week. If Japanese gamers aren't buying the PS4, there's simply no market for a device that streams it to another TV.

But what failed in Japan won't necessarily flop in North America. Sony has a key advantage in the North American market -- robust PS4 sales. Sales of PS4s in North America currently account for 46% of global sales, making it a more favorable market for the PlayStation TV.

3. Nixing net neutrality could also nix cloud-based gaming
Beyond streaming PS4 games and playing PSP and PS Vita games on the big screen, a key selling point of the PlayStation TV is cloud-based backwards compatibility.

While the notion of Sony letting gamers rent and buy older PS1, PS2, and PS3 games via a Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) -like service sounds appealing, changes in net neutrality rules in the U.S. could make that a much less enjoyable experience.

Back in January, a federal court overturned several FCC rules that prevented Internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking access to legal web content. This essentially allowed Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to throttle high-bandwidth connections to streaming services like Netflix at will.

Therefore, ISPs gained the legal ability to charge companies for higher speed connections, or to charge customers tiered pricing schemes for varying connection speeds. Those fears were confirmed earlier this year, when Netflix agreed to pay Comcast and Verizon for faster connections.

The size of an HD film on Netflix is about 3 GB per hour. The average size of a PS1 title is 500-700 MB, a PS2 title weighs in around 2-3 GB, but PS3 games can clock in over 25 GB (including additional HDD content). Therefore, streaming older games off the cloud might not be practical unless Sony follows Netflix's example and inks special deals with ISPs. But those costs might be passed back onto the customer in the form of higher rental and purchase costs for cloud-based games. In that case, it might make more sense to simply play the original physical copy on an old console instead.

The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, the PlayStation TV is an interesting niche device that could appeal to a portion of PS4 owners.

However, there are cheaper, easier-to-understand devices that could prevent it from gaining much ground in the market. Meanwhile, poor sales in Japan aren't encouraging, and changes in net neutrality rules could crush Sony's dream of becoming the "Netflix of gaming."

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2014, at 1:25 PM, ThaddeusMaximus wrote:

    It's #36 and rising on Amazon's Top 100 Best Sellers list in the Video Game category and it doesn't even have a release date. Doesn't seem to be failing to me.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2014, at 1:28 PM, jtweiderman wrote:

    I think it could be an easy profit generator for the company on the software side. I haven't owned a PlayStation console yet, but I'm seriously considering getting one of these for access to the classic streaming library. There are a lot of highly regarded Sony exclusive games and a few tougher-to-find legendary titles from days gone by (certain Final Fantasy games on PS1 come to mind).

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2014, at 2:32 PM, JaredM80 wrote:

    the playstation tv is specifically for playstation stuff.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2014, at 7:19 PM, yourapuppet wrote:

    Playstation TV's use DOES NOT require you to own a playstation 4. the added features you get if you own a playstation 4 have NOTHING to do with the main function of this device. Its for streaming Sony's massive content of games and movies. I'm starting to thing that the fools stake in Netflix if messing with its judgment.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2014, at 12:10 AM, nicknolan7 wrote:

    this is just another article bankrolled by Microsoft trying to blindly lead people away from something that's gonna be hurting their business before too long. The fact that this was allowed to be published, despite never stating that you do NOT need to own a PS4 for PS TV to work (and, in fact, heavily trying to imply that you do need the ps4 first) can only be the result of either a) grossly uninformed writers or b) biased writers. In either case, I would expect more from a site that's essential purpose is to inform potential investors.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2014, at 2:24 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    At no point do I state that the PSTV requires a PS4. I merely state that the PSTV would appeal the most to PS4 owners or gamers within Sony's ecosystem. Otherwise, cheaper streaming boxes seem more practical.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2014, at 9:09 AM, NettoSaito wrote:

    I'm going to assume that you're not a gamer, but you are completely missing the point of the PlayStation TV. The PlayStation TV is a console version of the Vita, no more, no less. Some people would rather play PlayStation Vita exclusive video games on the big screen, rather than spending twice as much on the handheld console.

    As for the video streaming from Netflix, and the ability to remote play the PS4 and select PS3 games, them too are just standard Vita apps. The PlayStation TV was not developed for these features, they are just there if you want to use them. The main focus of this device is to play Vita games.

    Another thing you mentioned in the article is how it sold poorly in Japan, but there's a reason for that. The vast majority of Japanese gamers prefer handhelds to consoles. Many of them already have the handheld version of the Vita, so there isn't much of a reason for them to own a home console version.

    Anyway, once again, this is not a device for streaming. It is a home console version of the PlayStation Vita. It allows you to play most of the Vita exclusives, it allows you to access the Vita's online store (where you can buy and play PS One and PSP titles; the latter which can only be played on the PSP and Vita), and it allows you to make use of the optional Vita apps such as Netflix.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2014, at 10:45 AM, Facer5 wrote:

    If the device is cheap to make it may turn profit even if sales aren't stellar.

    But I have to also agree with many points made in the article. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

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