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Sony May Want to Launch an Internet TV Service

Another horse enters the race.
January 4, 2013

Just when you thought you were beginning to get a grasp of the labyrinthine world of online television, just when you thought a few key players were charging to the forefront (see “Aereo Has Landed”), or were likely to soon (see “The Gordian Knot of Television”), there had to come a piece of news like this. Variety reports that Sony’s getting into the TV game too, in a way that could prove seriously disruptive to cable. Or, as Business Insider puts it with characteristic frankness: Sony also wants to “Blow Up The Cable Business.”

“The Japanese conglomerate is in active negotiations with at least two major content companies about licensing their channels for a package that could roll out in the U.S. later this year,” writes Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein. One of his sources said the talks were “far beyond exploratory.” (Sony declined to comment.)

Variety calls what Sony has in mind a “virtual MSO.” Because content would be piped over broadband, says Wallenstein, Sony wouldn’t be encumbered by the same geographic footprint that has led to the regional monopolies or oligopolies that characterize traditional cable operators.

Sony makes sense as a major player here. I’ve written before about how my Xbox has been the Trojan Horse of my living room (see “Microsoft’s SmartGlass Is a Game-Changer”), beginning as a mechanism for playing “Lego Indiana Jones,” and winding up as the brains of my television and ultimately the reason I became a cord-cutter. I’ve had less to say about Sony’s PS3, although I own one, too–largely, in my case, because HBO Go is on Xbox but not, last I checked, on PS3. If Sony offered a serious competitor to a cable package, though, perhaps my PlayStation has been the real Trojan Horse all along.

Or would it be some other device entirely? Variety doesn’t have the final word here, saying it’s unclear whether specific hardware would be needed for such a service. The report does say, however, that a la carte pricing, that Holy Grail of TV disruption, is not on the table here.

Others have dabbled in this virtual cable idea, including Apple and Microsoft (they ultimately backed off, says Wallenstein). Google, famously, has actually laid down a network of fiber optic cable in Kansas City. Intel has been making strides here, saying it will roll out a virtual cable service city by city.

So basically, every major tech company and a host of minor ones have a horse in this race. Perhaps you are developing a cable TV competitor. Perhaps I am, too, and simply forgot about it. Oh, there it is, under the couch cushion.

A commenter on The Verge points to a delightful xkcd web comic that seems to sum up the situation in which we find ourselves. Sometimes I wonder if I long for a winner in the online TV space not in order to save money as a consumer, but simply so that I can finally contemplate, in a simple and intuitive way, where my TV is actually coming from.