The Problem With PlayOn's Subscription Model

By  |  Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

When someone I know buys a video game console, sooner or later I ask if they’ve tried PlayOn. The Windows software essentially tricks the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii into thinking that Web video content is stored on your local network, letting you watch Hulu, ABC.com and more on the big screen while your computer quietly handles the streaming.

One of the main reasons I’ve advocated PlayOn to fellow Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 owners is that you only pay $40 for the software once, and then you can use it forever. That’s about to change on May 20, when PlayOn moves to a subscription model: $40 for year one, and $20 per year after that.

PlayOn swears that the money will be put to good use by funding “continued development and support.” The subscription product will be dubbed “PlayOn Premium,” and will include a couple more sources for online video, a “Gold” version of Wii support and a promise that PlayOn will add more features over time. But do you feel comfortable paying for a promise?

The problem is that PlayOn subscribers aren’t paying for the delivery of content, or even the content itself.  They’re only paying for the continued right to use software, which would technically still function even if PlayOn’s owner, MediaMall, folded tomorrow. This would be like Microsoft demanding yearly payments from Windows users to fund updates and future versions. It just doesn’t work that way when software isn’t tied to a tangible, recurring service.

I’m glad PlayOn will let existing owners continue to get basic functionality for free, including Hulu. PlayOn’s even offering one year of premium service to existing users for $5 instead of $40. But it would make a lot more sense for PlayOn to build the new features first, then charge users a la carte to add each one — kind of like an app store. It beats paying PlayOn a yearly allowance and hoping it’s spent wisely.

 
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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    The best part of this is your game console could play Hulu directly if not for Flash. You're paying PlayOn to work around Flash.

  2. WisconsinGod Says:

    Currently on PlayOn, the liscense agreement says:

    Your license will be valid forever for all patches and bug fixes for the current major version of PlayOn. All functionality and feature enhancements to PlayOn will be free for existing licensed installations, until a new major version is released, at which point a new license may be required to continue access to the content marked (beta) or (preview). PlayOn software enables browsing of content provider websites that may not have a direct affiliation with MediaMall Technologies. Although we work tirelessly to ensure continued PlayOn compatibility with all current and future supported services, MediaMall cannot guarantee such support in any way.

    This basically says, if you pay us $40, you can use the software FOREVER.
    So if you currently own the software, and they require you to switch to the subscription model, they are breaking the current terms of the agreement (not just voiding them, but breaching them). For current liscense holders, they should get their initial purchase of $40 back if they choose to no longer use the software due to the new contract option.

    If not, I see a class action lawsuit brewing for Breach of Contract.

  3. WisconsinGod Says:

    Reading further, it looks like they will not be subject to a suit

    " We will continue to honor the lifetime licenses for those that purchased PlayOn prior to May 20, 2010 (which we are now calling PlayOn Basic). Your PlayOn Basic will continue to work with the existing non-beta content (Hulu, Netflix, CBS.com, ESPN.com, CNN.com, YouTube, MyMedia and Plugins) as well as Amazon VOD, MLB.tv, and Pandora. After July 15th, 2010, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report will no longer be supported in PlayOn Basic as these are being launched out of beta as part of the full Comedy Central integration in PlayOn Premium. PlayOn Base will continue to receive new features and development support, but no new content will be added into the core (though you can always add more plugins).

    To thank our loyal customers, if you purchased PlayOn prior to May 20, 2010, we will be offering a founding member discount for PlayOn Premium. You may upgrade to PlayOn Premium for only $4.99 for the first year ($19.99/year thereafter). Once you purchase the upgrade, you will receive a new license key which will unlock the new PlayOn Premium content. You may also cancel your subscription at any time, and go back to PlayOn Basic (be sure to save your original license key). We are sure you will enjoy the new content and features so much, you will never want to go back."

    That is all fine and dandy, but what I see as an issue is the following statement
    "Starting on May 20, 2010, we will no longer sell PlayOn (Basic) as a lifetime license for a single fee."

    Why not have two product lines? Reel them in with the basic application, and get them hooked to upgrade to the premium. (XBox does this well with their Gold vs Silver online plans).

    For all of you out there reading this, if they don't switch to a dual system, buy your "Founding" license before May 20, so no matter what happens you can still use basic features for a lifetime.

  4. Ben Says:

    Not sure why my comment was removed, but here it is again (what I remember)
    "They’re only paying for the continued right to use software, which would technically still function even if PlayOn’s owner, MediaMall, folded tomorrow."

    This statement is not true. The content providers continually update the behind-the-scenes way they transmit content. If the PlayOn staff weren't so diligent in keeping the product updated, it would be dead within a month.

  5. Big kahunawitz Says:

    For 5 a year, I couldn’t resist. And even 20.00 is cool too when you can pipe pretty much any music video with the MTV feature. Try using the scripts and plugins too. This software is great.

  6. Mad Says:

    Wow, I feel baited and switched. And damaged, getting out of my cable TV subscription thinking I was paying for something that now appears to be changing to something I didn't want.

  7. capitaltpt Says:

    They are also offering a lifetime license for PlayOn Premium for $39.99 to PlayOn Basic Lifetime memebers.

  8. mikez Says:

    It is the old bait and switch. I have been arguing with a playon rep for a few days now about this. Very annoying. Is there any other software out there? If not, maybe it is time to write something.

  9. plooger Says:

    > They’re only paying for the continued right to use software, which would technically still function even if PlayOn’s owner, MediaMall, folded tomorrow.

    And this is where the OP's author is woefully mistaken, highlighting the error in evaluation/judgment resulting in the negative skew of the review.

    Other pros/cons of PlayOn aside, the constantly evolving environment of online video guarantees that any software app designed to skirt the usual content creator/distributor partnerships will quickly become obsolete as content websites evolve their streaming and presentation technologies. Yes, the PlayOn server would fire-up… but what is the point if the server hasn't been updated to adapt to changes on content provider websites, resulting in empty listings across the board.

    I suppose, though, that the "I want something for nothing" argument shouldn't be surprising given the target audience of the product.

  10. Guest Says:

    PlayOn is an absolute "RIP-OFF"!!
    I tried the trial edition on my Nintendo Wii, and it worked. I decided to pay for a subscription, and paid the $30…(the cost had dropped to $29.99). After paying for the "license", the software stopped functioning. I wrote to the "tech reps", who told me everything from unplugging the computer, to uninstalling my Anti-Virus. Many emails to and fro later, the last step, I refused to do, and they would NOT refund my money. (My Anti-Virus is 3 computer only, and mine was #3. I couldn't re-install it if I wanted too).

    Word to the wise: If a company has a NO REFUND policy, their product is not worth the trouble. PlayOn is a SCAM! Please watch YouTube XL, or even Hulu. Don't lose money on a "Bait and Switch product like PlayOn.

  11. David Says:

    I want to know if the netflix subscription is included. Are any of the channels included? Or does it work like playon basic where you can stream from your Netflix subcription to your mediaplayer?

    With the new Netflix price increase, I intend to cancel my subscription. They constantly raise the fee and don't offer any discount to loyal customers. It is like getting a cell plan for $$$ a year and finding it costs $$$$$$ a year when the plan is renewed. And you gotta by a new phone to because they no longer support your model.

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