Sony PlayStation Vue à la carte option won't save you money

If you've ever wondered whether an à la carte TV subscription could actually save you money, it looks like you'll soon be able to find out. At the E3 video game trade show this week, Sony said that starting next month, its PlayStation Vue Internet TV service will be the first ever to offer individual channel subscriptions nationwide, meaning you can get only the channels you want outside of à larger programming bundle.

Sony also said PlayStation Vue, which had only been available in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, is now rolling out in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

However, it's not yet clear how extensive Vue's à la carte offerings will be. Based on what was said at E3, the pickings at launch will be pretty slim, with only Showtime, Fox Soccer Channel, and an online gaming and entertainment video network called Machinima immediately available.

Showtime costs $11 per month, the usual rate for Showtime's streaming channel, and Fox's soccer channel is priced at $15 per month. Machinima will cost $4 per month, though it is included at no extra charge in the highest-priced "Elite" Vue bundle, which costs $80 a month. (Those who pay the $50 yearly charge for a Sony PlayStation Plus membership get deals on both Fox and Machinima.) So to get just these three channels, you'd pay $30 each month.

By comparison, Sony's basic Vue programming bundle costs $50 per month, and it includes about 50 different channels, including local broadcasts and so-called cable channels such as AMC, CNN, HGTV, and TBS. For viewers who watch a lot of programs, a bundle—from Sony or a traditional pay TV provider—might continue to offer better value.

One question that wasn't addressed is whether those opting for à la carte channels get the free cloud-based DVR, or if that's only available to those subscribing to a bundle.

Right now, there's no information about what additional channels will be offered through PlayStation Vue on an à la carte basis. But unless individual prices are lower than what we've already seen, it would seem likely that for many of us, the à la carte options would be used to augment, not replace, a traditional TV bundle.

And that would mean that Sony's service isn't all that different from some of the other cord-cutting TV services, such as Sling TV, that provide a basic bundle, plus the option to add individual or mini genre-based channel packs.

—James K. Willcox

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