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PlayStation Vue loses all Sinclair-owned local channels

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Two dozen stations no longer available

Sinclair Broadcast Group office photo Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sony’s PlayStation Vue streaming television service no longer offers any local broadcast stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, leaving customers in nearly two dozen U.S. media markets without certain broadcast networks.

All Sinclair-owned local broadcast stations on PlayStation Vue, including ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS affiliates, disappeared from the service on May 1. That amounts to 24 television channels across 23 markets, a Sony spokesperson told Polygon today. The PlayStation Vue subreddit is currently filled with complaints from aggrieved Vue users, who have lost local affiliates including ABC in Seattle (KOMO), CBS in Cincinnati (WKRC), and both Fox (KABB) and NBC (WOAI) in San Antonio.

Sinclair is the nation’s largest operator of local television stations, controlling 193 of them in 89 markets that cover 40 percent of American households. That’s before the company’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media, which would give Sinclair access to nearly three-fourths of the country.

Sony did not begin to notify affected Vue customers until the day before, according to Cord Cutters News, which first reported the Sony/Sinclair split. The email that Sony sent didn’t mention Sinclair by name; here’s an excerpt from one, as posted on Reddit: “We are writing to inform you that on 5/1/18, the ABC-affiliated live local broadcast channel in your area will be replaced with an On Demand version of the channel.” Multiple customers said on Reddit that they did not receive an email from Sony until 11 p.m. local time on April 30 — just one hour before losing service and any DVR content they had recorded.

Sony is clearly hoping that the continued availability of on-demand programming will soften the blow somewhat; a representative told Polygon that customers “will still receive most on-demand content from ABC, NBC and Fox within 24 hours of airing.” However, the main point of receiving a local broadcast network is the ability to watch programming such as local news — even if it’s blatantly conservative-leaning — and live sports, which is not the kind of content that is typically accessible on demand after it airs.

“We are always evaluating the PS Vue service to ensure we are offering a compelling value to our customers and focusing on channels that resonate,” a Sony representative said in a statement. The spokesperson added that Sony is launching a new live feed from Fox “in the coming weeks” that is intended to “replace the local affiliate feeds in the affected markets.” This stream, said Sony, will include prime-time programming from the Fox broadcast network as well as content from channels such as Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Soccer Plus.

Still, it’s a tough loss for Sony. The availability of local stations is often a key factor in whether a customer decides to sign up for streaming TV services like Vue. Sony has worked hard to expand its selection recently, adding dozens of local affiliates over the course of 2017; by November of that year, Vue offered more than 225 across the country. This isn’t the first time Vue’s channel lineup has shrunk; in November 2016, Sony dropped more than 20 channels owned by Viacom, such as MTV and Comedy Central.

Sinclair, for its part, doesn’t expect that the end of its arrangement with Sony will hurt its own bottom line. The broadcast giant took a scorched-earth approach in a news release yesterday, saying that “because of the very small subscriber base that PlayStation Vue has this event will have no material impact on Sinclair.” In addition, Sinclair explicitly blamed Sony for the split, saying that it came about “as a result of Sony failing to comply with certain contractual provisions.” (In its statement to Polygon, Sony said, “Despite our best efforts, we were unable to come to an agreement on terms with Sinclair for the continued carriage of their local stations.”)

Affected Vue customers are understandably frustrated at losing local stations, and some said on Reddit that they’re planning to cancel Vue and switch to a service that still offers the broadcast networks in question, such as YouTube TV. In fact, a Sinclair executive went as far as to suggest this very thing in the company’s news release, pointing out that YouTube TV “continues to carry stations that Sony has dropped.”

Update (May 4): A Sony spokesperson told Polygon that the company has no further comment on the end of its deal with Sinclair for PlayStation Vue. The rep did provide a list of all 23 media markets that lost a local station; you can see them below.

  • Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York
  • Austin, Texas
  • Baltimore
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa
  • Cincinnati
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • El Paso, Texas (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
  • Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Michigan
  • Green Bay-Appleton, Wisconsin
  • Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Texas
  • Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Pennsylvania
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Pittsburgh
  • Portland-Auburn, Maine
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Antonio [lost both Fox and NBC]
  • Seattle-Tacoma, Washington
  • South Bend-Elkhart, Indiana
  • St. Louis
  • Washington, D.C. (Hagerstown, Maryland)
  • West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, Florida