Last week was a rollercoaster for PlayStation Vue, Sony’s streaming TV bundle.

On Tuesday, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index released the results of its first-ever survey on streaming video services, in which Vue tied for first place with Netflix and Twitch. No other streaming bundle came close.

At the same time, Sony was casting doubt on Vue’s fate, telling investors that the “market and future business model [for Vue] remains uncertain.” CEO Kenichiro Yoshida tried to downplay the implications a day a later, saying that Sony gathers useful data from Vue and has no plans to shut it down, but it’s no secret that Vue isn’t doing well. Analysts estimate that the service has fewer than one million subscribers, well behind Sling TV (2.2 million subscribers as of February) and DirecTV Now (nearly 1.5 million subscribers as of April). And when Sony dropped local stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier this month, the nation’s largest TV broadcaster said it would have “no material impact” on the company due to Vue’s “very small subscriber base.”

Even if PlayStation Vue isn’t in imminent danger, its struggles underscore how cutthroat the streaming TV business has become. In this environment, the services that cord-cutters enjoy most won’t necessarily be the victors.

Missed chances

PlayStation Vue had a chance to build an early lead in the streaming TV wars. The service launched in March 2015, around the same time as Dish Network’s Sling TV, but not nationwide. At first, Vue was only available in a handful of U.S. markets, where CBS, NBC, and Fox own and operate their own broadcast stations and could provide live local channels. A bigger push came the following year, as Sony started offering discounted “Slim” plans without those locals, while adding Disney-owned channels such as ESPN and expanding its streaming device support. Even then, Vue had an eight-month head start over AT&T’s DirecTV Now, and was a clear favorite among tech reviewers (including me).

Still, Sony was less aggressive than its rivals in bringing on new subscribers. Sling TV and DirecTV Now have both wooed potential customers with device deals, letting them snag free or cheap Rokus, Fire TVs, and Apple TVs in exchange for prepaid service. DirecTV Now even allowed early subscribers to lock in a 100-channel package for $35 per month, and has since offered $15-per-month bundle deals with unlimited AT&T wireless plans.

Meanwhile, Sling TV rolled out a nationwide ad campaign in mid-2016, starring actor Danny Trejo as he vented frustrations with cable TV providers. While Sony flirted with TV ads in Vue’s early days, the company’s big commercial push, featuring NFL star Clay Matthews, didn’t begin until a year later, at which point Vue was already competing with Sling, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, and FuboTV.

Vue’s competitors realized, essentially, that streaming bundles were going to be a brutal business, and that building up an early lead would require lavish spending. Sony was never willing to take that risk.





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