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Analyst Predicts More Streaming TV Providers Will Close as Programming Prices Soar

The era of fierce competition among live streamed video providers that has fueled cord-cutting will face new challenges as providers cope with rising programming costs and some may exit the business.

Last week, Sony’s PlayStation Vue announced it was planning to cease service in early 2020 because it was not profitable for the game console manufacturer. But Cowen analyst Gregory Williams believes it won’t be the last to close its doors.

Williams told Multichannel News that despite the growing phenomenon of cord-cutting, new streaming subscriptions are slowing down as subscribers choose between a half-dozen major services that are all raising prices, including AT&T TV Now, fuboTV, Hulu Live TV, Philo, Sling TV, and YouTube TV. Williams called the current marketplace for streaming services irrational in the business sense, because providers are at the mercy of programmers that are continuing to raise wholesale prices.

Another serious problem is price disparity. Programmers offer huge volume discounts to large cable, satellite, and telco TV providers, charging smaller streaming services considerably more. That could eventually bring streaming subscription prices to parity with the same traditional cable and satellite providers many consumers left looking for a better deal.

Most streaming TV providers have built business models on slimmed-down packages of channels, rejecting the difficult-to-negotiate a-la-carte “choose your own channels” model many customers have been asking for since the days of 100 channel cable TV lineups. As a result, consumers are still paying for lots of channels they do not watch or want, and as subscription costs advance beyond the $50 a month many services are now charging for a healthy package of most popular cable and broadcast networks, some subscribers may end up going back to their old providers.

Ironically, one of the few a-la-carte providers available is a very large cable company you may already know. Charter’s Spectrum has been quietly selling TV Choice, a package of 10 ‘you-pick’ networks (mostly a part of Spectrum’s Standard TV package) combined with C-SPAN, public, educational, and government access channels, home shopping, and local over-the-air stations, to its internet-only customers for $24.95 a month (not including a $6/mo Broadcast TV Fee and an extra $4.95 a month for a cloud-based DVR service). The resulting bill of around $35-40 a month is at least $10 less than many streaming service providers that may not offer the exact channel lineup you are looking for.

The closest alternative is Sling TV, which has very slim packages of networks in three different configurations, ranging from $15-25 a month. But chances are, some channels you watch won’t be included.

Williams predicts that just three to five services will survive the consolidation wave or exit that is expected to be triggered by Sony’s decision to leave the marketplace. The services most vulnerable are likely those lacking a deep-pocketed, healthy corporate backer or those with the least market share.

An executive for one of PlayStation Vue’s rivals told Multichannel News Sony faced platform costs that “were simply too high.” Sony paid broadcast retransmission consent fees to local stations in every market the service was offered and also licensed popular, but very expensive regional sports channels. Sony also outsourced its streaming technology to Disney-owned BAMTech, among the more expensive platform providers.

Sony Shutting Down PlayStation Vue Streaming TV Service

Sony is throwing in the towel on its streaming TV service, PlayStation Vue, with the announcement the service will close down early next year.

“Today we are announcing that we will shut down the PlayStation Vue service on January 30, 2020. Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected. Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business,” the company said on its blog.

PlayStation Vue debuted over four years ago, but was immediately met with two difficulties that proved insurmountable:

  1. Many wrongly believed the service was only available to those owning a PlayStation gaming console. While there are over 100 million PlayStation 4 units in use today, a significant number of cord-cutters do not own any gaming console and thought that put PlayStation Vue out of reach.
  2. Sony has no ties to other TV providers, making it impossible to get the kinds of volume discounts available to large satellite, telco TV, and cable operators. As the costs of video programming continue to increase, PlayStation Vue losses widened for Sony and left customers looking for savings off a traditional cable TV bill frustrated by increasing rates for streaming providers. PlayStation Vue hiked rates $5 a month last July, reaching $50 a month, and it was clear more rate hikes would be needed in the future.

PlayStation Vue was always a money loser for Sony and reportedly has around 500,000 subscribers — a relatively small number in comparison to services like Sling and AT&T TV Now. Within the last week, reports leaked out that Sony was looking for a buyer for PlayStation Vue, but apparently could not find one that met the company’s terms. Sony is under pressure by Wall Street activist investor Daniel Loeb, who wants the company to restructure and eliminate money-losing services like PlayStation Vue to boost Sony’s stock price.

PlayStation Vue primarily offered live feeds of linear TV channels. Linear TV viewing is on the decline as viewers increasingly move towards on-demand viewing and services like Netflix and Hulu that deliver plenty of that content at a much lower cost.

Sony PlayStation Vue Adds 9 New CBS Local Stations to Lineup

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Sony PlayStation Vue has added live streams of CBS stations in nine new markets, expanding the reach of CBS-affiliated stations on the cable TV online alternative.

Effective immediately, subscribers can watch these CBS affiliates if you are located within the local coverage area (thanks to Cord Cutters News):

  • lineup playstationCalifornia: KFMB San Diego
  • Florida: WPEC West Palm Beach
  • Michigan: WWMT Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo
  • North Carolina: WBTV Charlotte
  • Ohio: WKRC Cincinnati, WOIO Cleveland
  • Pennsylvania: WHP Harrisburg
  • Texas: KEYE Austin
  • Utah: KUTV Salt Lake City

PlayStation Vue isn’t just for game consoles, available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Google Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV/Stick, and also available on the PlayStation Vue mobile app (iOS/Android). A seven-day free trial is available to U.S. viewers.

The service appears to be a more direct competitor to traditional cable television, offering a substantial number of traditional cable networks and an increasing number of local over the air stations:

PlayStation Vue Packages:

  • Access: 55+ channels, including an assortment of cable, movie and sports channels for $29.99 per month ($39.99 if local stations are provided)
  • Core: 70+ channels and regional sports networks for $34.99 per month ($44.99 if local stations are provided)
  • Elite: 100+ channels, including all channels noted above plus Epix Hits and two other entertainment channels for $44.99 per month ($54.99 if local stations are provided)

Showtime is available a-la-carte. In smaller cities without live local station streaming, the service offers on-demand access to selected network shows.

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