YouTube, which has been the unofficial home page for internet video, with more than 1 billion hours viewed per day, has decided to challenge traditional pay-TV with the announcement of its 40-channel YouTube TV.
The service costs $35 a month, and gives each subscriber a “family plan” with six accounts, which is designed to keep individual content recommendations separate — so a news junkie mom’s suggested videos aren’t compromised by her kids’ binge Nickelodeon-viewing. It includes the four major broadcast networks and their affiliate channels, as well as several sports and news cable channels as well as The Weather Channel’s Local Now streaming service.
There are also no long-term commitments, no hidden fees and no plans on increasing the announced price or adding tiers, YouTube executives said during a question-and-answer session following a Tuesday event introducing the service.
While YouTube TV’s price is in line with competitors like AT&T’s DirecTV Now and Dish Network’s Sling TV, the streaming service’s channel selection isn’t as robust, missing networks from big cable providers like Time Warner and Viacom, for example. It does, however, include YouTube Red original series and movies, previously only available to YouTube Red subscribers — a separate premium online video service that costs $10 a month and includes scripted shows from mostly YouTube stars, who are bigger deals than TV actors for many younger viewers — and could help sway families to YouTube TV instead of rivals like DirecTV Now or Hulu’s forthcoming live TV service.
Here are a few things to know:
1. You can only watch it in the United States
While Netflix is available in more than 190 countries and YouTube itself has a global user base, YouTube TV is a U.S.-only product for now with no plans to roll it out internationally, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said during the Q&A. That’s due to rights issues involving its content, but it means that while an American Netflix user can easily catch up on “The Crown” while on a business trip to France, that same person has to wait to come home to watch “Top Chef” on YouTube TV.
2. The most popular prestige TV channel is missing
YouTube TV’s lack of Time Warner channels means premium cable network HBO, home of “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld,” is not included. Showtime is available for an added fee, but fans of HBO who don’t subscribe to a traditional pay-TV service can’t cancel their $15/month HBO Now streaming accounts yet.
3. It’s trying a whole new approach to customer service, a notorious issue for traditional pay-TV companies
Cable providers regularly top lists of Americans most hated companies, as a combination of engaging them when an essentially indispensable product fails and daylong service windows give most customers a bad taste. YouTube TV offers “instant help” via an app, manned by actual people who will be able to identify the “user journey” customers have taken to get to the point where they are stuck, Mohan said.
“We want to be able to deliver customer service in context,” he said.
4. It’s great for sports fans — with a couple big exceptions
A YouTube spokesperson demonstrated for TheWrap a feature that allows users to punch in a specific sport or even particular team and instantly show all relevant games airing in the near future on YouTube TV. Combined with YouTube TV’s inclusion of several ESPN and regional sports networks, it’s an easy way for fans of a specific team to catch all the games, whether they’re at home or using a mobile device (as long as they’re within the coverage area of the regional networks the games are often aired on). The service also offers Fox Soccer Plus for an additional fee.
However, YouTube TV’s lack of Time Warner channels means the service doesn’t have TNT, home to many marquee NBA regular season and playoff games, as well as the NCAA basketball tournament. With basketball being the most popular sport among the cord-cutting millennial audience YouTube TV is targeting, that’s a gaping hole. Also, because of the NFL’s mobile deal with Verizon, YouTube TV subscribers can watch pro football on their desktop computers, but can’t transition to their phones and tablets, which is available for most other programs.
5. It’s designed for people who are used to bouncing between screens
YouTube TV takes advantage of parent Google’s Chromecast technology, giving users the ability to start watching a show on a phone, cast it to a Chromecast-enabled smart TV mid-program, and finish it on a tablet. That capability means nothing to people who watch their shows at a set time on the sofa, but YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that’s not what millennials want — and that’s who the service is going after.