Sony to Add Original TV Shows for PlayStation
Move Is Part of Effort to Broaden Console’s Appeal Beyond Videogames
Sony Corp. is venturing into original TV programming for its PlayStation as part of an ambitious effort to make the device a home for TV and not just videogames.
The electronics and entertainment giant plans to offer original series through the gaming console, on top of an online pay-TV service it plans for users of the device.
First up will be a one-hour supernatural drama series, “Powers,” to be produced by the company’s in-house studio, Sony Pictures Television, company executives said.
The show, which centers on a detective who investigates crimes involving people with special powers, will be available exclusively in the U.S. on what the company calls its PlayStation Network, which includes some 30 million Internet-connected PlayStation devices, the company said. Users will be able to stream the show just as they would watch, say, “House of Cards” on Netflix, which can be accessed through the PlayStation Network.
The move is separate from the planned online pay-TV service, which would offer traditional TV channels available through cable, satellite or phone companies. Sony has been in discussions with major media companies to acquire rights to offer channels over the Internet, people familiar with the matter say.
“It’s about having a broad range of broadcast content to replicate the live TV experience,” said Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., which oversees the PlayStation unit.
Sony’s foray is the latest example of how videogaming devices are incorporating more entertainment features as they try to broaden their appeal in the living room. The PlayStation already allows users to buy an array of digital downloads, such as TV shows and movies, and can access streaming services. The company recently said it also plans to launch a service to stream games.
Microsoft Corp. , which hired former CBS executive Nancy Tellem to head up TV efforts for its Xbox gaming console, is developing an original TV series for the gaming console with Steven Spielberg.
For Sony, the PlayStation TV initiative is a chance to show that the entertainment and technology wings of the sprawling conglomerate can work closely together.
Some critics have argued there isn’t enough synergy among Sony’s divisions. Last summer, activist investor Daniel Loeb pushed for Sony to sell off part of its entertainment business through a public offering, amid lackluster results in the company’s film unit. Sony rejected the proposal.
The PlayStation initiative “is an example of why the businesses do work very well together,” said Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment. He said Sony selected “Powers” from several potential projects partly because it would resonate with gamers. The show includes elements of superhero fantasy, police procedurals and crime noir. “It overlays extremely well with the demographics of the PlayStation,” he said.
Mr. House declined to comment on the specifics of how Sony’s original TV shows will be marketed-whether consumers will need to pay a fee to view them, for example, and whether the Sony shows would be available as part of the pay-TV offering.
Users can access some PlayStation Network features without paying-they can log in to their Amazon or Netflix streaming video accounts, for example. But they must pay to access the PlayStation Plus premium gaming service.
Sony has hired writers who have begun to brainstorm story ideas. The producers include writers of the graphic novel on which the show is based as well people involved with AMC’s hit drama “The Walking Dead.” Mr. Lynton said the per-episode cost of the show will be roughly in line with shows on premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime.
Netflix had nearly 32 million paid subscribers in the U.S. at the end of December, edging past HBO.
Mr. Lynton said Sony is increasing its investment in TV, which has enjoyed faster growth and better profit margins than its film business.
In October, Sony Pictures Television became the first big Hollywood studio to agree to produce a new TV show for Netflix. Gaming consoles represent another emerging buyer. Sony is looking to develop programming for devices other than the PlayStation.
Besides producing shows, the company operates TV networks around the world. “It’s not lessening the commitment to film,” he said. “It’s just making a greater investment into television.”
Sony Pictures Television, led by president Steve Mosko, is the studio behind hit shows including NBC’s “The Blacklist” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” as well as long-running syndicated game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.” It is benefiting from a boom in demand as cable and broadcast networks expand their original offerings and as new buyers enter the scene.
It isn’t clear when the new Sony show will premiere. While the show will be available in the U.S. on PlayStations, Sony will sell the rights overseas to other outlets, as it would with any other TV show it produces.
Sony faces competition with the online pay-TV service concept. Dish Network Corp. is developing its own online pay-TV offering, while Apple Inc. and Google Inc. have explored the idea too. Sony’s control of a TV studio, and its ability to distribute shows to the large number of consumers who already own PlayStation consoles, could lend it some advantages over tech rivals, media executives say.
Still, providing a package of cable channels at a price that is competitive with traditional pay-TV distributors will be challenging. Media companies that sell rights to their TV channels generally give the best deals to the largest, most established distributors.
Adding in more TV features could help Sony sell more PlayStations and generate more revenue from its user base, Mr. House said. “It is part of a broad range of services and content already offered on PlayStation,” he said.
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