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Sony's Web TV Service Signs Disney and ESPN. Who Caved?

Sony's Vue is going to sell subscribers ESPN, whether they like it or not.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Earlier this year, Sony launched an interesting experiment: Would people sign up for a pay TV service that didn’t feature ESPN?

Now that experiment is over: ESPN, along with every other TV network Disney owns, will be coming to Sony’s Vue service, which delivers TV over the Web through Sony’s PlayStation game consoles.

The deal means Sony now offers subscribers the same stuff, more or less, at about the same price that they would normally get via conventional pay TV providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which makes it the first Web TV service to do so.

What we don’t know is what pushed Sony and/or Disney to get the deal done. That is: What was the result of the experiment? Did Sony offer concessions to Disney because it didn’t think it had a competitive product without ESPN, ABC and other Disney-owned channels? Or did Disney soften its stance because it’s now worried about the fact that they’re losing conventional pay TV subscribers?

One thing we can say is that Sony is taking Disney’s entire pay TV lineup. Which means Sony and its subscribers are going to end up footing the bill for not just ABC and ESPN, but niche stuff like Fusion and ESPN Classic. So this isn’t a “skinny bundle,” which lots of TV industry folks think is the wave of the future, and which Apple was trying to assemble earlier this year.

Instead, Sony is delivering the same thing you can get from the cable guys, delivered on a different box. Whether that’s appealing is another experiment.

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