PlayStation Vue, the streaming television service operated by Sony’s gaming unit, will cease operations at the end of January 2020, Sony announced Tuesday.
The shutdown news comes just five days after The Information reported that Sony had been losing money on Vue and had spent months looking for a buyer to take on the struggling service. It appears those efforts were futile; Vue will close up shop 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,” said John Kodera, deputy president of Sony Interactive Entertainment, in a statement on the PlayStation Blog. “Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business.”
Sony rolled out Vue in March 2015 in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Vue had a patchy launch lineup, and the company’s initial pitch focused on the service as an attempt to revolutionize the TV viewing experience. Its feature set included an innovative cloud-based DVR that could automatically record any airings of users’ favorite shows. A year later, Sony expanded the service nationwide, albeit with all kinds of caveats concerning pricing and channel availability. And the company did gradually beef up Vue’s channel lineup, adding heavy hitters like Disney-owned networks ABC, ESPN, and Freeform as well as premium cable stalwarts such as HBO.
But the pricing and channels were always in flux. Even a company with Sony’s considerable might didn’t have the same clout in the pay-TV business as established players like telecom giants, which meant that Sony had a tough time wrangling deals with content providers and keeping costs down. Less than two years after Vue launched, it lost all Viacom-owned channels (including MTV and Comedy Central), and in the spring of 2018, local broadcast stations in nearly two dozen markets disappeared from the service. Moreover, Vue’s relatively meager membership numbers — currently about half a million households, according to The Information — didn’t help the company’s negotiating leverage. The aforementioned local channels were all owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which felt comfortable laughing it off in a news release, saying that “because of the very small subscriber base that PlayStation Vue has this event will have no material impact on Sinclair.”
After experimenting with price cuts, Sony was forced to raise the cost of Vue subscriptions on three different occasions. The most recent one came in July, when a $5 price hike across all tiers brought the cheapest subscription up to $49.99 a month — the same price at which Vue launched. As people continue to cut the cable TV cord, it seems that even the so-called skinny bundles that Vue once offered weren’t attractive enough to customers, either from a pricing or channel lineup perspective. These days, everyone and their mother is preparing to launch their own streaming service, attempting to pull people in with specific movies and TV shows at a sub-$20 price rather than expensive packages of TV channels.
Sony is promising that it will not make any changes to Vue’s service between now and its shutdown in January, and said in an FAQ on the Vue website that “subscribers who remain active with the service will continue to have full access to live, On Demand and DVR programs on all supported PS Vue devices” until then. However, the company will soon disable the ability for new customers to sign up for trials or subscriptions, as well as the option for existing customers to make changes to their plans except for cancellations.