Sony’s PlayStation is using its “Powers” to fly as fast as your Wi-Fi bandwidth allows, headlong into a new era. The home entertainment giant is streaming a new channel of content called PlayStation Originals that’s aimed at gamers, but with a broader audience in mind.
Tuesday, the video game developer debuted “Powers,” its first scripted, live-action series, via the gaming console and online through a web browser.
“We’re happy with the show and think gamers will find this engaging. We think there’s a big market for this show and that it will be successful,” Shawn Layden, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, told FoxNews.com.
The first three episodes of the 10-part “season” are live Tuesday. Subsequent chapters will be released on Tuesdays for the next seven weeks. The first episode is free across platforms and the entire season will be free of charge and commercial free on PS 3 and PS 4 for PlayStation Plus subscribers on the PlayStation Network ($49.99/year). Non-members can watch on PlayStations or any web browser for $2.99 HD/$1.99 SD per episode, Sony officials say there will be advertising but wouldn’t elaborate.
“(Original content) is the tip of the spear for the PlayStation Network. They’ll get it for free. Growth on that has been fantastic for original content, instant game content that’s provided on a monthly basis, also free games,” John Koller, VP of Platforms Marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America, told FoxNews.com.
“Original content could really be a nice additive, turning into a nice staple,” Koller added. “Other membership services have seen that drive to adoption: Netflix, Amazon. We think it can do that for us in terms of growing membership base.”
Sony has room to grow its subscriber base. The company says there are currently 10.9 million PlayStation Network subscribers worldwide, but last week announced it has sold 20.2 million PlayStation 4 consoles since the November 2013 launch.
Clearly Sony would like to see that PSN adoption rate rise, and if you think about paying $27 for nine episodes of “Powers” a la carte, well, then that’s almost an annual subscription. Sony gives away gaming content already, but if it gets one or two other series that gamers find engaging then the entertainment content becomes a bonus, or vice versa.
Sony’s Layden wasn’t ready to announce additional programs until they’ve “closely reviewed the metrics” for “Powers.”
‘Powers’ shows darker side of celebrity culture
“Powers” is an adaptation of the eponymous long-running graphic novel — a dark twist on the superhero storyline. The graphic novel places those with super powers into our contemporary cult of personality. It presents a tale of celebrity culture, but told as a cop drama.
In the show, the heroes, known as “Powers,” are an everyday reality and regularly dominate the news cycle.
“Our celebrity culture would be drenched in (Powers),” asserted Brian Michael Bendis, who co-created the graphic novel and is an executive producer for the series. “You would rarely see them, but always hear about them. How would we build them up and tear them down? Some would be cool for a moment and embarrassing the next.”
In the show, the main character is a cop, played by Sharlto Copley, who was stripped of his super powers. The story follows the conflicts Copley’s character faces while seeking a way back to that glory.
For his part, Copley told FoxNews.com that he was excited by the challenge of launching a show on a new platform.
“I wasn’t skeptical at all about that, that was one of the things that made me interested in doing the show,” Copley said. “I’m always interested in pushing the boundaries of things.”
Bendis said that he is honored that his show is the flag bearer for PSN original content and is pleased Sony is making the show 15 years after initially optioning the story for a possible movie.
“We needed the technology to be invented for the show to have a home,” the writer mused, adding that “we needed this for the show to be what it needed to be. I’ve written video games and comics — it’s the same audience.”
Bendis originally had concerns whether a show streamed on a video game console would be considered “a real show,” but said that Netflix and Amazon have cleared the way. Plus Sony Pictures Television has put its considerable heft behind the project. Koller said the set built in Atlanta was the biggest one ever used by Sony TV and the budget is “in line with what you’d expect from ‘House of Cards’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ on a per-episode level.”
That synergy within Sony is one reason that analysts, including Lewis Ward with IDC, think PlayStation will succeed in a way that its competitors haven’t. For instance, rival Microsoft pulled the plug on its costly Xbox Entertainment Studios. The consoles market exclusive content — both gaming and passive entertainment — in order to lure gamers into purchasing next generation consoles before buying annual online subscriptions.
Ward may not be a TV critic, but he does think “Powers” will give Sony a boost.
“‘Powers’ is a particularly good fit for PlayStation Network users in the sense that many gamers play with the idea of superhuman capabilities and so the show is likely to attract eyeballs and kind of builds on and compliments many of the themes that crop up in popular video games,” he said.
Speaking of video games, viewers will note a teenage character playing an in-show game of “Powers” and wonder when it’s coming to market. Sony officials were mum on a possible new title inspired by its first original show, but “Powers” creator Bendis sees synergy and possibly dollar signs.
“The game was put together to show what it would look like for kids playing that game in the “Powers” universe. Immediately you see the kids playing it and say, ‘I want to play it’,” he said, laughing, before adding, “it’s ‘Grand Theft Auto’ with powers. Who wouldn’t play that?”
While there’s a wealth of source material for a video game and additional episodes for the series, the moment of truth has arrived to see whether a large enough audience will embrace the show — which should play well to video game, comic book, and sci-fi fans — to earn a green light for renewal.
Copley is optimistic.
“That’s always the hope isn’t it? Season 2. We unfolded a story that’s really going somewhere,” Copley said. “There is somewhere we’re going and at the end of it we all felt we were in a good place to do an amazing second season, and I hope we get the opportunity.”