Sony's internet TV to disrupt Europe's pay TV markets

OvumOvum attended a Sony briefing last week on its European TV strategy, a large part of which is the launch of the PlayStation Network VoD service by the end of 2009, and internet-enabled Bravia TV sets (Bravia Internet Video) in the second half of 2010.
Such developments from large powerful brands such as Sony will significantly disrupt the pay TV market by placing a competing platform directly on the most important device in the living room – the TV screen.
Sony’s video strategy is split into two parts: a video on demand (VoD) service via the PlayStation Network and an internet video strategy that will provide catch-up broadcast TV content as well as access to other internet TV sources.
In both cases the content line-up looks impressive. The VoD service, which will be launched in France, Germany, Spain and the UK by the end of 2009, will carry content from all the major Hollywood studios as well as the largest local studios.
Negotiations with content providers are still under way for the Bravia internet video feature, but by the time of launch Sony hopes to have signed up many of the major European broadcasters. At the time of the briefing, Sony had already confirmed:
  • UK: Five
  • France: M6
  • Germany: ARD Tageschau
  • Italy: Mediaset
  • Spain: RTVE Antena3, laSexta.
Agreements are also in place to deliver other forms of internet video content from popular sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion.
Sony’s VoD service will initially be available on the PS3, whose users are already starting to see some internet TV services (such as the BBC’s iPlayer) appear on the PS3 menu.
However, with the launch of Bravia Internet Video feature-enabled Blu-ray Disc Players, Bravia TVs and Blu-ray Home Theatre devices in the first half of 2010, online content will be directly available and thus over time will also become available to non-PS3 owners. Sony suggested that many of the catch-up TV broadcast channels will first appear on the Bravia internet video feature-enabled devices, with migration to the PS3 at a later date.
Turns up heat
Accessing internet video content on the TV is not new. Users can easily do it themselves by connecting the PC to the TV, and specialist equipment, such as Apple TV, is also readily available. However, we still believe Sony’s development to be significant.
Unlike a number of previous product launches, Sony’s has:
  • a good and comprehensive line-up of broadcast, movie and short-form content
  • in the PlayStation Network, an existing footprint of more than 13 million subscribers in Europe alone
  • in the Bravia TV, one of the most popular and well-known TV brands.
Of course the take-up of new Bravia TVs – not the cheapest brand on the market – will take time to filter through to the market.
Unlike the VoD service, which can be rolled out quickly to existing PS3 owners, the rollout of the catch-up TV services will take much longer. This certainly gives pay-TV owners some breathing space.
However, placing content directly onto the TV is a significant disruptor for pay TV operators.
For the first time, users will have a choice of platform directly on the TV set (i.e. without having to purchase another set-top box) for accessing interactive and on-demand content. This will certainly loosen the pay-TV operators’ control over where their customers shop for content such as premium movies, and – if the free to air content is good enough – perhaps over customers in general.
One thing lacking in Sony’s story, especially around catch-up TV, is the ability to ensure quality of service.
Its iPlayer service on the PS3 can already suffer from pauses during programs on certain broadband lines and at certain times of the day. Sony’s view on this seemed to be that it was the broadband operators’ or the content owners’ problem to resolve.
Although the VoD service shouldn’t suffer in the same way, as it uses progressive download techniques, quality issues on the catch-up TV service could take the shine off Bravia internet video, which could then be used to the pay-TV operators’ advantage, assuming that by then consumers are still willing to pay a premium for quality of experience.