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Sony PlayStation Network guns for Xbox Live, adds NBC Universal lineup

March 10, 2009 |  7:06 pm
Hellboy II
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is among the titles available to watch on PlayStation Network.
Credit: Universal Pictures

Sony said today that it added NBC Universal's TV shows and movies to its lineup of videos for rent or purchase on the PlayStation Network, an online marketplace for PlayStation 3 game console owners.

The deal bumps PSN's download offerings to 1,300 movies -- such as "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" and "The Incredible Hulk" -- and 4,500 TV episodes, including those from "The Office," "Heroes" and "Battlestar Galactica."

Sony, which projected a $1.5-billion loss its current fiscal year, is in the midst of a massive reorganization designed to transform the electronics giant into a more nimble media company (its Sony Pictures unit cut 350 jobs today). PlayStation Network fits neatly into this plan being championed by Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer, who has vowed to give the vast majority of Sony devices the ability to connect to the Internet in order to retrieve, store or play digital content.

Kaz Hirai, who heads up Sony's worldwide PlayStation business, has his work cut out. For one thing, Hirai has to compete with Microsoft, whose Xbox Live marketplace for ...

... owners of the Xbox 360 game console has been around since November 2005, a full year before the PS3 came out. Sony's deal with NBC Universal, for example, simply levels the playing field: Xbox Live already features NBC's content. And while Sony's PSN has 5,800 movies and shows, Xbox Live has 30,000.

But Sony is catching up fast, with 20 million registered accounts on PSN, compared with more than 17 million active users on Xbox Live. Note, however, that Sony's figure is just for registered accounts. Sony hasn't said how many of those accounts are actively logging on to PSN. Microsoft's number is for active subscribers who have logged on at least once in the last six months. In addition, more than half of Xbox Live members, nearly 10 million players, pay $50 a year for premium subscriptions. Sony's service is free.

The race is not just to build the biggest libraries of video. It's about creating a living room gateway for delivering all sorts of digital goodies, including games and music. The business model can also support services, such as on-demand video rentals, subscriptions for music streaming and access to weather and news.

Perhaps that's why Sony's announcement said the deal with NBC would help make PS3 "the ultimate entertainment platform."

-- Alex Pham

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