Live streaming pay television no longer requires a traditional wired cable subscription.
New services from DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) offer content that used to be solely available by paying Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and other providers. DISH's Sling TV and Sony's PlayStation Vue shatter that monopoly giving the public an option to buy live "cable" for digital streaming without a "wired" connection.
But while the DISH and Sony services are similar in ways, they also have different price points, channel selection, and target audiences. Both services have their merits, but they are certainly not interchangeable.
What Sling TV offers
DISH's streaming service has a base price of $20 a month. Sling TV offers live streams of a number of popular cable channels including ESPN, AMC, TNT, and more. The company also sells a number of add-on packages for $5 each that offer packages of niche channels in areas including movies, sports, and families.
Sling also just announced that it will be adding HBO for $15 a month at some point in April before the April 12 launch of the new season of Game of Thrones. Aside from HBO, Sling's packages price out to roughly $1 per channel.
What Sling does not offer is any of the broadcast channels. That decision was intentional according to company spokesperson John Tagle who spoke with The Fool at CES.
"These are probably the premier channels that the millennial audience, which is the key group that we're going after," he said. "Probably the channel that they are most interested in is ESPN."
Sling works on PCs and Macs, as well as most popular streaming devices, including Amazon's Fire TV, Apple iPads, Roku players, Microsoft's Xbox One, and more. It does not yet work on Sony's PlayStation consoles or Google's Chromecast.
What PlayStation Vue offers
Sony's streaming offering is a little closer to a traditional cable package. The company charges $49.99 a month for its entry level "Access" package -- a selection of about 75 channels fairly similar to most cable companies' expanded basic tier (with a few notable missing channels).
For $59.99 you can upgrade to "Core," which adds "local regional sports networks such as YES Network in New York, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, as well as additional sports and movie networks," the company claimed via press release. If you're willing to spare no expense there's a $69.99 "Elite" package that adds "more than 25 lifestyle, music and family channels" to the contents of the other two choices.
"The TV experience needs a revolution and PlayStation Vue changes the rules by embracing how today's viewers want to discover and enjoy content," said Andrew House, president and global CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment.
Unlike Sling, Vue includes the some of the broadcast networks, specifically FOX and CBS, as well as local programming from NBC. PlayStation Vue debuted on PS3 and PS4 with the company promising to make it available on iPad soon and other devices down the road. For its base package, Vue costs around $0.66 a channel.
Is there a winner?
If we were looking for which service offers a package that's closest to cable without requiring a wired subscription then Sony would win. PS Vue offers a very cablelike package of channels at a cablelike price.
Sling has a slimmed down selection in its base package, but for $20 it's a more logical purchase for cord cutters looking to cut their expenses. The DISH offering is not as comprehensive as Sony's, but its a huge cost savings over traditional cable at a relatively small price. Sling would work well as a complement to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video.
Sony has delivered a perfectly viable alternative to traditional cable, but it's not markedly cheaper. For cord cutters -- if price is the driving factor -- then Sling TV is the pick.