By Philip Orona
Sony has announced that on January 30th, 2020, it will close down the Playstation Vue service for good. Leaving competitors like Sling and Hulu to field the cordless revolution as people continue to look for ways to cut cable. Sony, which is a major technology corporation, has a strong and diverse portfolio between, hardware, software, video games, and movies. They were also one of the first to market with a Cable baiting streaming service and had a major Sony produced catalog of material to draw from, so why did this happen?
Let’s start way back in 2006 – Sony had purchased an online video service called Grouper and rebranded it as Crackle in order to compete with the up and coming Netflix and the explosive popularity of YouTube. Back then the idea of streaming movies on demand was seen as the next big thing and would become a battlefield for the future of media. A few years later, Sony expanded its partnerships with Crackle being hosted on several outlets like Roku and even Microsoft’s own XBOX. While Crackle never found the success of Netflix, it remains an option for movie streaming on most home media boxes.
While Crackle struggled to make headway against competitors, Sony had a much more adventurous endeavor in mind. In March of 2015, Sony launched PlayStation Vue in limited markets for PlayStation 3 and 4. In Japan, Europe, and Australia, Sony had an antenna based add-on for the PlayStation 3, So technically that was the predecessor for Vue but it wasn’t released in America. The Vue was a big deal for us yanks as it was a real opportunity to give Comcast and AT&T the heave-ho. It offered around 75 channels from major market networks as well as on-demand content and an in-cloud DVR. Fast forward to 2016, having added Disney, ABC content in addition to premium services like Showtime, Vue was now expanding onto the Amazon Firestick and Google Chrome-cast support. As time moved forward, they would add NFL Redzone, HBO, and Skinamax. It would suffice to say, Sony was going all-in on their Hulu and Sling fighting service. The battlefield of the future was now upon us. Over the years, Viacom and a few others would pull support from Vue to venture off on their own streaming service and as YouTube Red joined the fray, things were heating up. But Sony was backing the PlayStation Vue so nothing could go wrong, right?
Earlier this month, Sony announced that it will be shutting down the PlayStation Vue service, citing lower than expected adoption rates and that the service was never profitable. They were looking for someone to buy the service but then decided to close it altogether. So, again we ask ourselves why? how? Some news outlets have stated that they feel like Sony didn’t advertise it correctly or that Sony didn’t have the negation pull to package its services at a more competitive price and I will agree with that being part of the problem. Sony’s full Ultra offering was $85 bucks but I feel there was a little more to it though as I’ll describe below.
The Number 3 of my list (I love lists) of 3 reasons why I feel like Vue struggled was its branding. While this does kind of play into its advertising, it also delves into tying it to the PlayStation device echo system and that wasn’t by accident. Sony wanted the PlayStation to become the jewel of the home media center much like Microsoft wanted to do with the XBOX 360. Microsoft had a deal with Sling and Sony and its own Vue. I tried both in 2016. I had an XBOX 360 and a PS3. The Sling experience while better didn’t have a DVR nor the same channel selection that I found on the Vue service. I personally went with the Vue and signed up for their next to top tier package as it was some 60 dollars less per month than what I was paying Comcast. While It was a few dollars more per month than Sling and it made sense to go the Sony route since they bill you through your PlayStation plus account and I already had one, this would come back to bite later. I initially tried it on my slowly outgoing PS3 and found that it had a tile view for channel selection (Just like Sling) and offered a cable guide-esque channel view that Sling didn’t have at the time. The channel guide performed awfully on the PS3. It lagged something fierce and occasionally crashed the app. I am sure this frustrated and turned off early adopters. On the PS4, this worked so much better. With my PS3 cleared from my media center and moved downstairs to the living room, we could watch Vue in both rooms. It wasn’t until about 3 months later I stumbled upon the fact (while reading online) that Vue was also available on the Roku. I bought a Roku for about 40 bucks and found the experience to be better than the PS3. So here is the thing – unless you search for it, your average Joe cut-cord wouldn’t know that Vue is an option on anything other than a Sony game device. Which is a major investment. A Roku is cheap. Sony hasn’t gone out of its way to explain that.
Number 2. Sony is just bad at keeping your account information secure, and the PlayStation Network has a dicey history of being reliable. This was the bad part of tying the Vue account to my PSN account. At the time of this writing, there have been at least 3 data breaches at Sony in the last decade. One leaking thousands of PSN account logins in 2011. The other breaches were at the Sony media-level proper. That 2011 breach was massive and shook customer confidence down to the core. I had changed my password shortly after the breach. The old passwords were in the wild and would stay there. In 2017, a year after having Vue, I changed my password again because silly me, I forgot it and had to recover/change it and then write it down this time. Like a dumbass I must have accidentally used my password from 2011/2012 because within 2 days of me changing my password, my account was hacked and the hacker locked me out of my account and purchased 300 dollars worth of games. 6 years. 6 friggin years after the breach and the internet script kiddies are still trying to break into peoples accounts using ancient login info. I called Sony immediately and they locked down my account. The charges were reversed and Sony was investigating. The problem now was, my account was locked. It remained so for nearly 2 months. I couldn’t it get back. Neither could the hacker so there was that. Now in that time, my PSvue account had lapsed and I couldn’t re-up the payment while my PSN was locked. So I signed up for Sling. Once I got my account back (after a lot of phone calls and bitching at the poor unfortunate customer service rep on the phone), I was hesitant to put another credit card on the account. It was a moot point though because when I tried to eventually put a card on my account, the PlayStation Network wouldn’t let me. So Sony permanently lost me to Sling at that point. It was like they were trying to protect me from their own terrible processes. Eventually (about 6 months after the hack) I got back full functionality of my account but no more Vue for me. No more Vue for a lot of adopters who got caught up in the hack, I could only imagine.
Number 1. A rise in competition. As of Late 2019, excluding Vue, there are no less than 6 TV streaming options, the best of them being listed here:
Each option offers something unique. All options have their pros and cons. There really isn’t one definitive solution. Viacom (MTV, Spike, Comedy Central, BET) pulled its channels from most providers to start its own free service “Pluto TV” which is pretty good. I use it myself but no local channels and it misses out out more premium networks because, well, its run by Viacom/CBS. It is hard to beat free though. Then there is Disney+ which offers nearly all of its content (Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney proper) plus base Hulu and ESPN+ for 13 bucks in a bundle. That too is hard to compete with. Warner Brothers is also planning to launch their own service soon, the field is only growing. Also, there is a lot of exclusive content being generated by the big players like Netflix and Amazon. Sony must have looked at their own dwindling subscriber base and thought “This isn’t going to work.” and decided to offload (then cancel) their product instead of investing even more money for an uncertain outcome.
While I no longer use Vue, it’s a shame that it is closing down as it was one of the better overall offerings and having good competition only makes the field better. I don’t even feel like the price was a major deterrent. Sony had made many missteps in handling its product that they ended up being their own worst enemy. Sony certainly won’t be reeling from this but they will find it difficult to jump back into the streaming media service again once it has become more mainstream and will probably be kicking themselves for not sucking it up and soldiering on in a crowded field. Meanwhile, I have been getting my kids entertainment from a combination of Netflix, Pluto TV, and Amazon. So we bid adieu to Vue, it would have been great if not for Sony. Let’s see what moves, if any, they make with Crackle.