Xbox One has always had ambitions to deliver cloud-based entertainment to its users. Since before the next generation console was released, Xbox has stated its intentions of providing television and video to customers in a bid to become the actual center of their daily media consumption. On release there was the introduction of the “One Input” design concept—users can feed their HDMI cables from cable and satellite outputs into the back of the Xbox One where the signal will be handled by proprietary software—and Microsoft was realizing their dream to be the gamer’s nexus for all media. Now it seems as if Sony Corporation has designs on crushing Microsoft’s dreams.
Sony announced Tuesday that they have developed and are testing a cloud-based streaming service for the Play Station 4 that will provide live television programming, video and video game streaming to include titles from previous generations of the Play Station.
Xbox One’s all-inclusive media portability is often under-utilized. Customers that own Xboxes don’t necessarily own cable boxes or satellite receivers. The new generation of media consumer is as likely to subscribe to Netflix or Hulu as a local television service provider. Though this has not been cited in affecting Xbox One sales—the console is trailing Play Station slightly in U.S. sales but it has also been on the market for less time.
Executives from Sony Corporation described the service-without-a-name as a mix-up of live, on demand and DVR. Promising an intuitive means of searching for content, a common complaint of cable subscribers and Play Station users alike, the service is said to be in testing and will be ready for release this year.
This announcement is bigger than it initially sounds. Promising “live television” and comparing it to cable and satellite is a niche that even the popular Netflix franchise hasn’t been successful with. Sony’s service, at least as it is currently being envisioned, will allow users to dial in their favorite airing TV show, record it for later viewing, or reach back into previous seasons to pick up lost episodes. That’s a big promise. Media content licensing is what puts the controls on what is available for viewing through streaming providers and Sony’s announcement suggests that they have worked out content licensing to allow them to compete with the entrenched forces of media giants like Comcast.
Customers calling for the abolition of programming “bundles” and fees that differentiate between cable and internet services may receive their reprieve. If Sony is offering what it sounds like they are offering, the end of channel surfing through unwanted programming may be a thing of the past.
Xbox One pushed hard when marketing their One Input concept. Prior to their console’s release they stated that their aim was to provide “live TV through Xbox One in every way that it is delivered throughout the world,” citing cable, satellite and broadband streaming. On release, the One Input was showcased by the inclusion of hardware that allowed for the connection of a satellite or cable HDMI “out” line to the Xbox One that was then able to control the feed via proprietary software and then pass it to the television. Whatever they were developing in the way of streaming content, however, they also stated that, “The delivery of TV is complex and we are working through the many technologies and policies around the world to make live TV available where Xbox One is available.”
Play Station may have surmounted the complexities before their biggest competitor it seems. How they have done this is being kept under wraps. Sony is only saying that they have a “good dialogue” with media companies. They are coming out clearly against the idea that they are not competing with cable companies, whatever their broad reaching plans may be. “We’re offering live TV and we’re combining it with other video services,” said Sony’s CEO Kaz Hirai in a Reuters interview. “We don’t set out to do this and say we’re going to compete with cable companies,” he told reporters. “Whether you believe it’s competitive or not, that’s your question.”
Sony’s plans seem far broader than they are initially letting on. What they are suggesting, based on Tuesday’s controlled press release anyway, could easily be seen as a cloud based streaming service that reaches past what the current “digital only” content providers are offering. Neither Netflix, Hulu, nor anybody else for that matter, currently offers streaming anything that goes beyond episodic television installments and those normally at least a season behind. With content on par with what cable and satellite providers offer, it would come down to price and convenience for the individual customer; and convenience is in the bag as far as Sony is concerned. They claim more than 70 million current households in their network worldwide which makes for an impressive cross-section of potential first-day users, so what it might really come down to is price.
Unless there are massive restrictions on what content they are able to stream—there may be moves to limit programming by the larger established media providers following Sony’s announcement—their success will revolve around competitive pricing.
Imagine a world where prime channels are not forcibly bundled with less attractive channels. Imagine the freedom of a viewer choosing channels based on personal interest and then paying for only those channels. That world may be closer than ever before, and it may be coming under the Sony brand name.
Xbox One should beware—Sony’s testing is ending soon and they anticipate release of their polished service in 2014. Play Station 4 owners will be able to stream current titles as well as the most popular titles from previous generations of the platform—and better than that—they’ll be able to pause their game play to watch the most current episodes of whatever television has to offer. Whether the service is all it’s advertised to be is yet to be seen but unless Xbox One ups the ante, their dreams of being the center for gamers and their media might never come to fruition.
By Matt Darjany