Sony Harnesses 'Powers' to Sell PlayStation Plus Subscriptions

Sony Pictures
Comic book-themed entertainment has taken over at the box office with Marvel movies and on television with "The Walking Dead." We've yet to see a limit to the genre's superpowers. That could all change come December, when Sony (SNE) debuts "Powers" exclusively to PlayStation owners with a PlayStation Plus subscription.

For Sony, it's a new spin on an old model. Video games are often tied to a single platform initially in hopes of juicing sales of a new console. Microsoft (MSFT) took this approach with the Xbox One and the giant-robot shooter "Titanfall," and enjoyed a jump in U.K. sales as a result. Roughly 70 percent of console purchases were made in conjunction with a download code for "Titanfall."

Every new generation of consoles gets its share of exclusives. For the Xbox, "Halo" has been a particular catalyst over the years. For the PS3, new entries in the "Uncharted" and "Gran Turismo" games proved especially popular. For the PS4, "Killzone: Shadow Fall" sold more than 2 million copies in the first five months of release. Good titles help sell consoles, and vice versa.

Television tends to work a bit differently. While exclusive programming is par for the course -- think of Netflix's (NFLX) "House of Cards" or HBO 's "Game of Thrones" -- programs rarely sell anything other than the brand of the network airing the show. You may wish to sign up for unfettered access if the programming is appealing enough.

But in those cases, you're only committing to $8 to $15 extra per month out of pocket. "Powers" demands a PlayStation Plus subscription, which costs either $9.99 monthly, $17.99 quarterly or $49.99 annually. Adding a new console -- in this case, a PS3 or PS4 -- will run another $200 to $400 if you're buying from (AMZN). That's a steep toll, especially if you don't know what to expect from "Powers."

Here's What to Expect ...

IMDb bills the show as a sort of police procedural in which "a homicide detective is tasked with investigating crimes involving superhuman powers." That's not quite right. What makes the pairing of Christian Walker (played by Sharlto Copley) and Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) interesting is their backgrounds: Walker is a former superhero who lost his powers while Pilgrim is a trained detective. Together, they're tasked with investigating crimes involving men and women with fantastic abilities.

For now, Sony is committing to just 10 episodes, which might not sound like much if "Law & Order" is your idea of the prototypical police procedural. It's still the right move -- we've seen "Powers" fail before. Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) originally teamed with Sony for a pilot that was to air on FX. Multiple scripts were ordered, shoots and reshoots took place, yet none of it resulted in a finished pilot. Fox moved on, and Sony stepped in.

Whether that history creates pent-up demand or stigma is tough to know at this point. The good news for Sony? As an independent comic book, "Powers" has done well -- generally selling 25,000 to 40,000 copies per issue. That's about in line with a midrange book from Marvel or DC and a little less than half what "The Walking Dead" sells on a monthly basis.

On TV, "Powers" is unlikely to get anywhere near the tens of millions who tune into AMC Networks' (AMCX) zombie drama. A more realistic (if still ambitious) result might be 2 million new PlayStation Plus subscribers here in the U.S., on par with what "House of Cards" brought to Netflix in the quarter it debuted.

"Powers" gets its chance to break that record two months from now. Watch an unfiltered version of the trailer -- "Powers" isn't a kids show -- and then leave a comment to let us know your plans.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers' superpower is still falling asleep early after an evening cup of coffee. He owns shares of Netflix, and you can find him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends, AMC Networks and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of, AMC Networks, Microsoft and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to harness your financial powers? Check out our free report on our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor.
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