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Recently, I reported on Sony’s decision to join Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and others in the production of original television shows for online streaming only.
These shows don’t play by the rules of broadcasting schedules. They are available for a member’s viewing pleasure at any time. Entire seasons are available at once. This enables the addicts whom I affectionately refer to as “binge streamers.”
A typical binge streamer begins an internal conversation with something like, “I have some time. Maybe I should see what all this Breaking Bad fuss is about.” Then, eight hours later, the person wakes up in a haze of weird chemistry class memories, empty food wrappers, and broken dreams. “It’s dark out. Where am I? What happened? DID YOU DO THIS TO ME, HEISENBERG?!”
I am not making fun of you. In fact, I am one of you. That’s why I reacted to the news of Sony’s plans with both enthusiasm and mild dread. I already have a PlayStation 4. I already bought a PlayStation Plus membership, so how will my social life survive a free batch of PlayStation shows? These shows will be geared toward my demographic. Powers, based on a graphic novel about a detective and people with god-like abilities, already sounds awesome, so what if Sony resurrects other awesome pilots? Fox scrapped its The Punisher show — what if PlayStation picked that up? Goodbye, life.
Xbox One owners should be even more pumped. Their first announced show from Microsoft is a Halo series produced by Steven Spielberg. Are you kidding me?
These developments probably aren’t going to kill television or cable. Mega-corporations like Fox, Comcast (which owns NBC and half the known world), and Disney (which owns ABC and the other half of the known world) aren’t going to be worried over smaller technology companies investing millions into programming. Odds are these companies will end up buying out some of these streaming services. Comcast, more commonly referred to as Galactus: the Destroyer of Cable Companies and Devourer of Worlds, is sure to make a move in the next few months. (Comcast is already rumored to be cozying up to Apple.)
However, even billion-dollar executives should be a little concerned. Sure, Comcast has an illegal but somehow tolerated monopoly on cable. But even The Hunger That Does Not Cease needs to feed regularly. Many of my friends have cut out cable entirely in favor of streaming services. They did the math and realized that paying for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime was cheaper than cable and yielded thousands more options at any given time. These people are clearly the minority, but the minority is growing fast. For years, people have groaned about Comcast’s service, and now we have the tools to do something about it.
PlayStation and Xbox have a long way to go. In order to fully legitimize their streaming services, they have to accomplish some pretty lofty goals.
They have to raise prices
$50 a year will not cover the extra millions being spent on series production. I wouldn’t be shocked if both companies raised their membership prices by 20 or 30 bucks before Christmas. This isn’t going to sit well with a lot of gamers: “But what if I don’t want access to these shows? Aren’t you a video game company? Why should I have to pay extra for a service I don’t want?” Why, indeed. These will be tough questions to answer.
They have to move onto PCs, tablets, phones, etc.
I have the feeling that Sony views these plans as a selling point for the PS4. They aren’t. Nobody is going to buy a $400-$500 console just to watch a few unique shows. If it wants to get in on Netflix’s level, it will have to offer a streaming-only package at a discounted price for people who don’t own PlayStation consoles.
They need to produce good programming
Netflix was successful in this pioneering endeavor because it went out and spent millions to corral Oscar winners for House of Cards and its documentaries. It received 14 Emmy nominations because it was willing to take the risk.
They need to prepare themselves in case this gamble doesn’t work
If Sony spends $100 million on a failed TV adventure and then turns around and closes a major developer down to recoup some losses, people are going to be pissed. I will be pissed. I am as fair-weather as the rest of the gaming community. I am all for the plan right now, but if it fails and they close Naughty Dog or something, I will be irate.
It is easy to be pumped for Sony and Microsoft’s announcements. Shows are in production, the money is flowing, and times are good. I can’t wait until they announce more shows.
The projects are still at that blissful, early state. The gaming community is always sunshine and rainbows at this point. But then the leaks come. Screenshots, plans, social media updates. That’s when the community will turn on a project. Can Sony and Microsoft make it past this stage and deliver?
We will see.