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Sony's Pitch for Internet TV Proves It's Hard to Pitch Internet TV

Same TV, different delivery method. How do you sell that?

Sony via YouTube
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.

This is the year you can buy your TV on the Internet, instead of buying it from the cable guy. But after you factor in costs like broadband subscriptions, TV on the Internet may not be any cheaper than cable TV.

So why would you switch from cable TV to Internet TV? Or, if you don’t already get cable TV, why would you start subscribing to Internet TV?

Here’s Sony’s attempt to answer that question, aimed at people who are already watching TV:

Did you get that? Sony’s Vue, according to this “Inception”-y dude, is a “TV experience, better than you ever imagined, just waiting for you inside your PlayStation.”

So what’s better about it? Inception Dude doesn’t really say. You have to imagine it.

In the minute-long ad, Sony just shows us its “TV experience” for a couple seconds — long enough to establish that it has traditional TV shows. If you look closely, you’ll see that it looks like there’s a cooler way to scroll through those shows than the traditional craptastic cable company’s channel guide. And you use your PlayStation controller to scroll through them.

What else? Well, that’s it. Sony dedicates the remainder of the commercial to awesome things you can do when you play video games. The suggestion, I guess, is that Vue is a sort of power-up for traditional TV.

But I think it’s telling that Sony spends most of its time in this ad* talking about Vue, instead of showing Vue.

The truth is it’s hard for Sony to distinguish Vue from traditional TV. Because Vue really is traditional TV — a bundle of channels, interrupted by ads, and sold to you for a monthly fee — with a different interface.

And I think Sony won’t be the only one struggling to explain why you should buy Internet TV instead of the stuff you have now.

Sling, which offers its own Internet TV bundle, can at least pitch a cheaper price, because it’s only offering a dozen or so channels. It is also pushing the idea that Sling will free you from the tyranny of the cable guy — even though you’ll still need to pay the cable guy (or the telco guy) for broadband.

Even mighty Apple, assuming it gets its contract and tech issues with the TV guys solved, may struggle to explain why you should buy TV from it instead of from Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

Again: Apple wants to sell consumers a bundle of TV networks — just like Comcast and Time Warner Cable — and use its own interface to help you find and watch them. If you’re an Apple fan, you will assume that it will have a pretty awesome interface. But the stuff behind the interface will be the same.

That’s why the TV guys are happy to cut a deal with Apple — they think it won’t undermine the TV Industrial Complex that has worked so well for them.

“It’s TV. Except it’s on the Web.” Tough pitch.

Then again, who knows? Hulu has managed to sell nine million subscriptions to its Internet TV service — and seven million of those subscriptions are from people who also have pay TV, which means they can see most of Hulu’s most popular stuff already — Hulu just lets them watch it on the Web.

Maybe Inception Dude is onto something.

* As well as the 30-second version, which I saw on actual TV** last night.
** Well, actually, it was on DVR, because I had forgotten to fast-forward in between segments of “MasterChef.”

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