When it comes to TV, less is the new more. For years, the trend in subscription TV was a march toward large-scale, expensive packages. More recently, however, the trend has been just the opposite. To cater to the growing contingent of cord-cutters and cord-slimmers, individual channels and even multichannel video programming distributors, or MVPDs, have started to introduce streaming-based channels or small-package offerings. The most discussed is DISH Network's (DISH 0.69%) Sling TV, which offers 23 live channels for $20 monthly in its basic package.
Forgotten in these discussions is Sony's (SONY 0.84%) PlayStation Vue live and on-demand streaming-based service, and that's mostly due to the service's limited reach. When the service made its debut last March, the company was only available to users in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. According to Variety, Sony is finally rolling out its service nationally, to 203 markets, but with one very large caveat: there will be no live local broadcast channels.
Vue's big change helps DISH Network, but the offering appears impressive
One of the biggest advantages Sony had over its higher-profile competitor was the presence of live, local broadcasting. In the seven listed cities, Vue subscribers had access to these local channels, whereas DISH Network did not. The ability to deliver live local news and programming was a powerful differentiator for Sony's Vue. However, that functionality will now be lost as the service goes nationwide because ABC, Fox, and NBC have opted for next-day access; CBS, which has its own streaming option, will be added in "select TV markets" later, according to Variety.
Instead, Vue's service seeks to compete on price. The old basic package delivered 50 channels for $49.99 monthly. Now, the service brings three options: Access Slim, which delivers 55 channels for $29.99 monthly; Core Slim, 70 channels for $35 per month; and Elite Slim, which boasts more than 100 channels for $44.99. It's important to note only the local broadcasting is on a one-day delay, traditional cable channels continue to be live-streaming. This is important, because Sling TV's host of channels are all cable networks.
Competition at the low end, but DISH still has one advantage
The battle between these two services, I predict, will be at Vue's low end. The Access Slim package provides most of the channels DISH Network provides, certainly the heavily trafficked cable networks such as ESPN and ESPN2, AMC, TNT, TBS, and CNN, but adds Fox News, E!, FX, Spike, and SyFy for an additional $10 every month.
It seems Sony's strategy is to essentially treat its Vue service as a loss leader to build its ecosystem, whereas DISH wants to make a profit on its core product of video delivery.
DISH still has one key advantage: Sony's Vue is device-limited compared with DISH's Sling TV. Vue needs either a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3 console, the Chromecast dongle, or is available on Fire Devices, as well as iPhones and iPads. Noticeably absent are Windows-enabled personal computers and laptops, while DISH is available on Windows 7 or later devices. One thing's for sure -- the lower-cost streaming-delivery market is starting to become interesting.