Sony Corp.'s decision to shut down PlayStation Vue stems from a combination of marketing and branding issues that prevented the TV subscription service from standing out in a highly competitive streaming market, analysts said.
The service, launched in early 2015, offers live TV channels across platforms, including PlayStation consoles, Amazon.com Inc.'s Fire TV, Apple Inc.'s Apple TV and various smart TVs. The number of channels offered differs based on the subscription packages, which are similar to "skinny bundles" offered by DISH Network Corp.'s Sling, Hulu LLC's live TV, Google LLC's YouTube TV and AT&T Inc.'s TV Now.
Although Sony has not disclosed Vue's subscriber count, research firm eMarketer's most recent estimates showed that the service had 800,000 subscribers.
Source: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Seth Shafer, a research analyst with Kagan, a media market research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, said the virtual multichannel model that Vue operates on has been challenging for operators to profit from, as service pricing increases have seen subscriber growth stall for some services.
"Sony may not have seen a clear path to profitability for Vue and simply decided to wind down the business to focus their efforts elsewhere," Shafer said.
He noted that the services that do seem to be gaining momentum in the virtual multichannel space, such as Hulu and YouTube TV, have a strong advertising component that they are able to leverage to gain subscriber share.
"Advertisers are eager to tap into the small slice of video ad inventory that operators get as part of most carriage agreements," Shafer explained. "Sony largely lacked that same component, so it may have been more challenging for the company to monetize its video ad inventory through Vue."
Michael Goodman, director of media strategies at Strategy Analytics, added that aside from lacking the advertising advantages of its competition, Sony also failed to put a sufficient amount of marketing muscle behind Vue, while both Hulu and YouTube received very heavy pushes from their corporate parents. He also argued that the PlayStation brand was not the best way for Sony to market a subscription TV service, as most consumers associate that name with video games.
"Even though the PlayStation brand has a tremendous userbase, services like Vue need to appeal to all U.S. TV households," Goodman said. "Naming it something like Sony Vue would probably have helped in marketing the product as something similar to Sling TV rather than a gaming offering of some sort."
Goodman also pointed out that Sony is set to launch its next-generation console, the PlayStation 5, in late 2020. The company's chief rival in the space, Microsoft Corp., is also launching its new Xbox, Project Scarlett, around the same time. While the PlayStation 4 dominated sales in the most recent generation of video game consoles, Microsoft had made some heavy investments on the gaming side recently, which could lead to a much more competitive round of console wars this time around.
"There is not a lot of time left till the new consoles start battling for gamers' wallets, and Sony obviously does not want the PlayStation division to be distracted by an underperforming service like the Vue," Goodman said. "The gaming market itself is evolving rapidly with all these new game subscription and streaming services. So it's probably for the best that they go all in on the gaming front and leave the TV services to the many companies already crowding the market today."
In an Oct. 29 blog post, Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. Deputy President John Kodera said Vue would be shut down on Jan. 30, 2020. "Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected," Kodera wrote, adding that the company would remain focused on its core gaming business.