Update: TCM Takes First Step to Cutting the Cable Cord

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.48.25 AMUpdated 7/16/15 – new info in italics

It’s the news classic film fans have been waiting for: you can now watch Turner Classic Movies without cable or satellite.  Sort of.

On Wednesday, Sony launched PlayStation Vue, an Internet-delivered, subscription television service designed to compete with traditional cable and satellite TV. And TCM is one of the 85 channels available to subscribers at launch. But before you pull a Norman Bates on your coaxial cable, be aware that there’s a catch. Actually, there are more catches than there were in ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD.

Initially, Vue is only being offered in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, with plans to “expand to new cities” at some, as yet undetermined, point. And the service is only available via Playstation video gaming consoles (specifically the PS3 and PS4, which retail for between $220 and $399), with iPad support expected “shortly.” And Vue is only accessible in the subscriber’s home so, while you can unplug your PS4 and carry it to your buddy’s house, your TV won’t come with you.

But wait, there’s more (catches)!

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 7.17.12 PMIf you decide to cut the cord and sign up for Vue, you’ll still need broadband Internet (like you do with any other over-the-top video service, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu, etc). And while Turner Classic Movies is available, it’s not included in Vue’s basic, 54-channel “Access” programming package ($49.99 per-month). Oddly, TCM is bundled in the $59.99 “Core” tier with three other channels – all of which are sports-related: the Big Ten Network, the Golf Channel, and a regional sports channel (the Yankees’ YES Network in New York, Comcast Sportsnet Philly, or Comcast SportsNet Chicago). Ben Mankiewicz’s frequent references to baseball must have confused somebody at Sony.

Vue’s highest-tier “Elite” package offers all 85 channels (including TCM) for $69.99, and all tiers include a cloud-based DVR with unlimited capacity. There’s also a “catch up” feature, which allows you to watch any show or movie that’s aired within the last three days. If TCM supports this functionality – and that’s not yet confirmed – it would essentially make the last 40 or so films broadcast on the channel available on-demand, roughly half as many as are available at any time on the Watch TCM app. (No word yet on whether access to the app will also be available to Vue users for remote viewing, as it is to most authenticated cable and satellite subscribers.)

Update 7/16/15 – Vue’s “Catch up” feature is not available with TCM, and Vue does not support the Watch TCM app. 

If your love for classics also extends to TV shows, NBC’s nostalgia-themed COZI TV is included in all Vue tiers. The only other way to get COZI is in the markets that carry it as a broadcast digital sub-channel, or part time on DISH Network and AT&T U-Verse. (I explain sub-channels here.) COZI also occasionally airs classic films that are controlled by Universal, including pre-1950 Paramount titles.

Now, let’s run the numbers for folks who decide to give Playstation Vue a try.

Playstation-Vue-Screenshot-05

With a monthly subscription fee of $59.99 paid to Sony, plus at least $40 for decent speed (10-megabit or more) broadband service paid to, you guessed it, your local cable provider (those bastards!) your monthly cost will net out at about $100. That may be a little less than you’re paying now for a basic cable/broadband package, but probably not much (although you’ll also be getting a gaming console and a full-featured DVD and Blu-ray player in the PS3 or PS4). Further negatives: Vue does not offer any premium movie channels (like HBO or Showtime) and Sony has yet to finalize an agreement with Disney, which means no ABC, ESPN, or any of the Disney channels at launch. (AMC is also not yet available, but is promised in April as part of the Access package.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 6.53.16 PMOutside of classic film fans who live in markets that don’t offer TCM – which is unlikely in major cities like New York, Chicago, and Philly – Vue, at least as currently constituted, probably isn’t much of an improvement. But, as the first legitimate option for watching TCM without a cable or satellite subscription, it’s an extraordinarily significant development for classic film fans.

What comes next is hard to say, but it’s clear that the traditional cable and satellite business model of large bundles of channels available from a single, local monopoly (or duopoly) is falling apart faster than an IKEA couch.

You’ve probably already seen the headlines. Apple is rumored to be planning an Internet-based, 25-channel cable-buster to launch later this year (viewable via their Apple TV box at a monthly cost of $30-$40) and DISH’s $20-per-month Sling TV service is already available via Roku, Amazon Fire TV, computer, and iOS and Android devices. Oddly, TCM is not offered on Sling, even though nearly all its sister Turner networks are.

With the HBO Now standalone streaming service set to launch in a few weeks (at $15 per month), and a subscription-based Showtime to follow, it’s inevitable that opportunities to access TCM in non-traditional ways will increase. And with the extremely user-friendly Watch TCM (launched in November of 2013), Turner has the basic architecture in place to launch a standalone, subscription based version of TCM. The challenge, as always, will be how to do that without destroying the business model that’s kept the network on the air for the last 21 years.

Playstation Vue is TCM’s first step on the Yellow Brick Road to a streaming future. Hopefully we’ll get to Oz sooner rather than later.

Update 7/16/15 – TCM is now available without a cable or satellite subscription on Sling TV for $25 per month. For more information click here

wizard-of-oz-original1

About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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17 Responses to Update: TCM Takes First Step to Cutting the Cable Cord

  1. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. We no longer have cable – we stream everything. Sadly, we’ve not had TCM for nearly a year, so I am selfishly excited to see this development.

    • willmckinley says:

      I don’t like to speculate when I have no evidence, but I guarantee you that a standalone, subscription based TCM is being discussed. When (or if) it’s going to happen I don’t know. But 2015 will be remembered as the year that the walls started to come down.

      • Kelly says:

        You may be right Will my aunt dropping Dish network she really told Dish network this is I think final straw was TCM getting dropped now she think cut the cord then watch Gettv and movies tv network especially in Los Angeles we being offered new Decades tv netwoerk Laff tv network which show movies also so she telling Dish Network Adios Amigos LOL!

    • Peter says:

      How is this any different than the overpriced service now offered by cable? You get the same content and same commercial interruptions, only a slightly different delivery system. I cut the cord earlier this year and miss TCM, only: Many of its “classic” films are simply old, and far from classic; many truly classic films are now in the public domain, available for streaming online (I watched Alastair Sim’s Scrooge on YouTube last Christmas, since TCM wasn’t showing it); Hulu and YouTube have by far the best selections of classic films online… For free or a very affordable price. Last night I watched Sawdust and Tinsel, a truly amazing film that I’ve never seen offered on TCM. I do yearn at times for some of the campy sci-fi, but you can always purchase that on demand.

      • Ida Tarbell says:

        Sawdust and Tinsell, indeed, all Ingmar Bergman, even the not famous stuff he did in the forties is on there.

      • Ida Tarbell says:

        Cable still hold the cards through its domination of the internet. They’re trying to lobby state legislatures to not allow munciipalities to put in local internet or wifi, quietly. There are not enough internet providers, and wifi and internet should cost almost nothing, it takes so little to finance it.

    • Bev p says:

      The same thing happened here too. We moved and haven’t had cable for almost 3 years now. I miss TCM.

  2. Jennifer says:

    That would be a lot more exciting without all those catches and a much larger market of availability. Why on earth would they bundle TCM with a bunch of sports channels? Thanks for bringing us the news, Will; it is interesting to see where it might go from here.

    • willmckinley says:

      Jennifer, I think TCM’s placement on the second tier is evidence that the channel’s management feels it needs to be made available only at a premium price. It’s awkward that it ends up being combined w/ sports channels but, as Sony lines up more networks to participate, that may change.

      • Ida Tarbell says:

        This story is a nearly a year old and old news. All cable is headed to streaming, but its still the same cable folks controlling the medium. City councils have to be persuaded to set up self sustaining local internet and wifi at minimal prices. Otherwise the Bigs will simply jack up the prices.

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Will: if getting the ‘streaming only’ bundle is going to cost the same as cable…then why get streaming-only? I’m going to hold out until Google comes to Charlotte (which is soon …. we hope).

  4. kstdenis says:

    Thanks for giving me some hope! My scissors has been ready for years. I get the networks and PBS plus a few more channels in HD from a simple outdoor antenna. As soon as TCM becomes available I’m cutting half way through the cable and just keeping the Internet. I’m looking forward to any updates you will have.
    Kevin

    • Ida Tarbell says:

      Everyone’s going to be doing this, but cable will still control thru the internet they largely provide, until big and tiny cities both wise up, and offer their own at reasonable prices.

  5. Kelly says:

    Don’t forget especially in Big cities aka Los Angeles market

    Like me I get following Me tv, Antenna TV, Cozi TV Movies tv network Bounce TV Grit tv, Get tv, Escape tv new Laff tv network coming this April then Decades tv network which already soft launch in Los Angeles on KCBS 2.2 then BuzzR Tv network with show game shows from 1950s to now with maybe classic Price is right, Wheel of Fotunte, Passowrd with Allen Ludden aka Betty White husband launch in late May

    Going be interesting few dignet channels coming online

    • Ida Tarbell says:

      I like diginets but find they get a little boring after awhile. Local stations where I live aren’t imaginative enough about diginets. Streaming video makes more sense, but cheap and no bundling unless one can get the exact channels one wants and not more

  6. Cord cutter says:

    Just think, with everyone streaming their own content from $7.99 to $69.99, we’ll be able to get the same channels as with cable or satellite for only $99 more a month. But we won’t have to deal with Cable or satellite, right?

    • Ida Tarbell says:

      Not much of a visionary, are you? You’ll have to deal with cable for decent internet for the moment. City councils need to put up their own competing systems at low prices offering similar service to break the cable monopoly.

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