The streaming TV landscape has changed dramatically since then. Sling TVadded a second “Blue” bundle that includes NBC and Fox channels. FuboTValso launched a bundle with NBC and Fox, and has since added CBS. AT&T launched DirecTV Now with three of the four major broadcast networks. Hulu launched a live TV bundle with all four major broadcast networks, as did Google with YouTube TV.
But while most of those streaming services also substitute live local broadcasts with on-demand programs in many markets, none of them offer discounts as a consolation prize. Hulu, DirecTV Now, FuboTV, and Sling TV all charge the same price throughout the United States, and YouTube TV only offers service in a handful of cities. Instead of advertising different prices in different places, these bundles all started with the assumption that everyone will get local channels in the long run.
Now, local affiliate stations are starting to get on board. ABC, CBS, and NBC have all inked broad streaming deals with their affiliates over the past few months, while Fox is engaging its affiliates in a game of hardball to make more streaming pacts. The result should be greatly expanded local broadcast coverage in the coming months.
Sony does deserve criticism for the timing and communication of its announcement: The company’s FAQ page and customer emails don’t even bother explaining the price hike, and its only attempt at justification came in a brief statement to CNET, which points out that 78 percent of the country already gets at least one broadcast channel. Still, the change itself was inevitable, as PlayStation Vue was always supposed to include live local channels from the start.
One might argue that PlayStation Vue is better off without ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, given that many users can just hook up an antenna and get those channels for free. But keep in mind that all of those channels are owned by major media conglomerates that also own lots of other channels. It’s unlikely that 21st Century Fox would allow FX and Fox Sports to be bundled without its flagship channel, that Comcast would allow SyFy, Bravo, and Comcast SportsNet into a bundle without NBC, and so on. A broadcast-free bundle would also have to give up lots of other channels. (Sling TV has managed to carve out an exception with its $20-per-month broadcast-free Orange package, but even it has lots of limitations.)
Therein lies the unpleasant truth of streaming TV packages today: Despite more cutthroat competition between media companies, the four major broadcast networks wield disproportionate power to ensure big bundles with high prices. And that’s unlikely to change for as long as those networks are among the most popular on television.
Without walking away from the entire TV bundle system, your ability to save money will have its limits.
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