Sony's going to beat Apple to the a la carte TV game

Ben Gilbert

Sony just threw down the gauntlet on per-channel, streaming TV subscriptions (aka "the inevitable future of television").

PlayStation president and group CEO Andrew House told attendees of its E3 2015 press conference:

"Starting in July, we will begin offering a la carte channels nationwide, and will be the first paid TV service to allow users to subscribe to individual channels without the purchase of a multi-channel bundle."

That is huge.

Before Apple, or any of the major cable companies did it, Sony is taking charge on individual channel television subscriptions. More simply: pay what you want, for what you want. No required bundle; no minimum package – just pay for what channels you want to watch. It sounds too good given the current TV subscription market.

And, at launch this July, it won't be that great. For starters, only three channels are being offered at launch: Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, and a "new, exclusive channel from Machinima." 

So even though Sony's PlayStation Vue service – the TV service it operates through its PlayStation consoles, currently on a traditional cable package pricing model – carries local programming, you won't be able to choose any of it at launch. Nor will you be able to pay for and watch any of the other channels, like Food Network or TLC or Nickelodeon (among many others). 

Still, it's a start, and the move puts pressure on not just Apple, but also the content providers (to say nothing of the pressure exerted by HBO Now, HBO's standalone service that essentially offers an individual channel subscription). Apple's version of streaming TV was reportedly delayed from a recent announcement – many expected it to offer some version of a la carte programming subscriptions, pushing back on the traditional model of bundles of channels sold as subscriptions.

PlayStation Vue is currently available in five major cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. The a la carte service goes live this July with three channels to start; Vue will go live nationwide at some point in 2015, according to Sony. A $2 discount will be offered for customers who subscribe to the PlayStation Plus paid membership program, per channel, though Sony hasn't specified how much just yet.

To start, Showtime will cost $11/month, FOX Soccer Plus will cost $15/month, and Machinima channel will cost $4/month; it looks like a range of pricing will be offered from channel to channel, depending on content and provider.

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