Sony Expands Vue Cloud TV Service to Los Angeles, San Francisco

Sony Corp. began selling PlayStation Vue, its cloud-based TV service, to customers in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Monday, expanding into two key West Coast markets.

With Los Angeles, Vue is now available in four of the five largest U.S. cities. The package, starting at $49.99 a month, is also available in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia -- only Houston is missing. The product features more than 50 channels of live television, including three major broadcast networks and most popular cable channels. A major holdout is Walt Disney Co., and its ABC, ESPN and ABC Family.

The expansion of Vue, announced in Los Angeles Monday at the E3 video-game conference by Sony Computer Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Andrew House, is central to the company's effort to turn the PlayStation console into a multi-purpose entertainment hub. It is competing with traditional cable-TV providers such as Comcast Corp., as well as online-only entrants like Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV and Verizon Communications Inc.’s Custom TV.

Sony sees an opportunity to exploit the more than 35 million Internet-connected PlayStations in the U.S. Their owners already use them to watch videos on Netflix or Hulu and listen to music, according to Sony.

“That’s more touch points than even Comcast has in terms of set-top boxes,” said Dwayne Benefield, a Sony vice president who heads the Vue effort. “The one thing missing was live TV.”

People who signed up for Vue are watching more TV, Benefield said. He wouldn’t give specifics on Vue usage. The company was surprised by how high engagement was, Benefield said. “That’s why we’re looking to roll out quickly,” he said.

Vue offers more channels than Sling TV, a $20-a-month package that includes ESPN. Verizon in late April began selling Custom TV, which starts at $55 a month for 45 channels plus a choice of two specialized sets like sports or news.

Vue’s two more expensive packages include a handful of regional sports channels, movies and other choices. None of them exceed 100 channels.

“We don’t want them to get lost in the guide,” said Vue’s head of product, Dan Myers. “In a matter of 6 to 10 seconds I can see everything that’s on TV.”

In July, PlayStation owners will be able to subscribe to the coming online-only version of CBS Corp.’s Showtime, either as part of Vue or a la carte. That is one of several services created by traditional TV networks in response to the popularity of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

PlayStation is the single largest distributor of most of those subscription services, Benefield said, which is why Vue tries to satisfy customers with a clean interface and large library of on-demand content.

With the click of a button -- the equivalent of a Facebook like -- the Vue will record all future episodes of a show in a cloud DVR, so users don’t have to spend time searching or scheduling recordings.

Vue also recommends shows based on past viewing habits, a feature available on Netflix.

“Our audience won’t be content or happy with a service that largely looks like the old,” Myers said. “They engage a lot with those other streaming video services, and the reason they do is because that’s an engaging experience. We want to make that this service as well.”