Sony tries to launch a network with Powers
You’ve probably heard by now that Sony’s Playstation Network has debuted it’s first original scripted series, Powers, a sort of gritty version of Heroes. Sony is hoping to break into the ever more relevant and lucrative streaming TV market with a new show in their ecosystem. Their first. And, so far only. This got me thinking, is a streaming TV service really a TV service if there is little to no TV?
Powers is basically CSI: Crime Scene Investigation meets Heroes, cops and crime fighters in a world where super powers are relatively common. The series is based on a comic by Marvel heavy-hitter Brian Michael Bendis (who also serves as executive producer of the series). Sony has been trying to get this series going for a while now, originally optioning it in 2001 with Bendis announcing filming being Imminent in 2009 for a possible launch in 2010 on FX. On March 10, 2015 it finally showed up for Playstation Plus members. Much like all other services, you have to be a member to get the benefits of the service, but Playstation Plus is even more locked down to Playstation 3 or 4 console owners only. It’s a necessary evil in a way as Sony wants to to incentivize their own product, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it also cuts down on potential viewers of their new flagship series. If you wanted to (legally) watch Sharlto Copely, Michelle Forbes, and Eddie Izzard be all super powered and gritty you would need to spend around $150 for a PS3 or almost $500 for a PS4 PLUS $50 per month for you PSN+ membership. This makes Sony’s new streamer the highest start up cost on the market. And, Powers is the only original programming you’ll get. PSN is at its core a gaming service which means you will get a lot of video game related aspects to your new membership (Free or discounted game downloads, DLC etc). Which, great if you want it, but you will definitely have to be a gamer first and TV person second to get any value for your money.
Playstations also have access to the larger streaming world. Many people, myself included, use their consoles as their home streamer to watch Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, and others on their TVs. On the one hand, this make Sony somewhat uniquely positioned as a one stop shop for all of your streaming needs. All you need is a Playstation console and you have access to pretty much every possible streaming TV platform (Microsoft’s Xbox can do the same with their Xbox Live service more or less but that is more definitively gaming focused so there’s a trade off.)
Streaming TV is the future. From networks losing shows to streaming services (See Community’s move from NBC to Yahoo! Screen or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiering on Netflix after NBC dumped it) to original streaming series becoming award show mainstays (Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and Amazon’s Transparent) No one in the industry really knows how to monetize this new world. Streaming services don’t release watch figures, and with bingewatching being so popular story telling is even more complicated (especially for critics who write for spoiler-phobic readers.) As it stands now, the US has access to 3 major streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus) providing new and old viewing options comprising a monthly fee of around $300 per year. But, for that price all 3 services are available on a variety of devices both mobile and home use. Those devices also have access to other streaming systems which give TV subscribers rich access to libraries of specific content (HBOGo, FXNow, Showtime Anytime etc) and even network content (CBS All Access, Fox Now) which come free with your TV subscriptions. With such a crowded burgeoning market, you have to wonder why Sony would even bother trying to break into this world especially such a high bar to clear for consumer entry. Honestly, if you were already a Playstation user but not a Plus member, I doubt a 13-episode TV series would tip the scales in Sony’s direction. I know it’s not going to for me.
Everyone wants a piece of the “content pie” as it were. I think Sony’s latest entrant will not be the last in a utterly strange series of productions being used as backdoor launch pads for new services. While name recognition is important, usefulness is even more important. People want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and in this increasingly mobile centered world it’s very strange that a new show would premiere- online only no less- with no real mobile access available (unless you count PS Vita which is dubious at best as Sony isn’t even entirely sure how it wants to use that device) no real ability to generate significant word of mouth. $50 per year is a steep price point for casual gamers and an impossible bar to clear for anyone else. Amazon Prime may be $99 per year but at least that gives you perks on Amazon which has something for everyone. Whether Powers really connects with people or not it is the first volley in what is sure to be a long line of strange moves content creators will be making to get on the fast moving train that is “new media.” Powers is now available to Playstation Plus members with the first 3 episodes also available on YouTube