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It seems like everybody wants in on the streaming TV game these days. Netflix continues to re-invent itself with more and more original programming, Hulu is moving into live TV streaming, and AT&T’s DirecTV recently unveiled a new streaming TV option. And now YouTube is getting into the game, with the release of YouTube TV, a $35 per month live TV streaming service.
YouTube’s “skinny bundle”
That’s right – the same social network that you use to watch funny cat videos, music videos and movie trailer clips is now launching a cable TV alternative. At launch, YouTube TV will allow users to watch live streams of ABC, CBS NBC and FOX, as well as a handful of other big-name cable networks like Disney, MSNBC, Fox News, Bravo and USA.
YouTube is calling this a “skinny bundle,” and skinny these days means 40 channels (compared to the 100+ channels you’d typically get with cable). The choice of content providers means that you’ll be able to watch any of your favorite primetime TV shows during the week and any sports games during the weekend. You’d also get access to local broadcast stations for local news (if you still watch that).
The drawbacks of YouTube TV
But here’s the odd thing – you won’t get access to HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, Food Network, PBS or MTV. So, you’re paying $35 per month (not exactly pocket change) and still wouldn’t get some of the most popular cable channels. And, if you want to stream movies, you’d still have to sign up for Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or some other streaming service with a big film archive.
Moreover, you’re not going to be able to avoid the ads. Unlike Hulu, which offers an ad-free alternative (at just $11.99 per month), YouTube TV will have ads. If pop-up ads and pre-roll ads annoy you on your computer or mobile phone screen, just wait to see how annoyed you are when those ads appear on your big TV screen!
And there’s one more thing that’s a big drawback to YouTube TV – the reason most people visit YouTube is because it’s free. So are those same people – the same people who haven’t yet upgraded to the premium YouTube Red – going to be willing to shell out 35 bucks a month? You’re going from zero to 35 awfully quick. That’s way more than Netflix or Hulu charge.
YouTube’s social advantage
The big advantage for YouTube, of course, is that it’s also the world’s second-largest search engine. YouTube knows what you like to watch, what others like to watch, and can make some great recommendations. And YouTube is a natural fit for anyone who enjoys tweeting or hanging out on social media while watching video. YouTube is a champion of the whole “second screen” concept.
The TV tipping point
Moreover, we’ve reached a tipping point of sorts where YouTube has almost caught up with TV viewership numbers. People can’t stop talking about the 1 billion number, as in the fact that people now consume 1 billion hours of YouTube video content EVERY SINGLE DAY. The number for regular TV is 1.25 billion hours. It’s easy to see how YouTube is going to pass regular TV – maybe not in 2017, but almost assuredly in 2018.
The real question is whether people with two-minute attention spans (the length of an average YouTube video clip) will want to watch hours of TV at a time. Yes, people watch 1 billion hours of YouTube videos a day, but that’s divided up into a lot of bite-size chunks (the funny video while waiting in line at the supermarket, the sports highlight video in the morning, the compilation clip of a favorite TV show in the afternoon). YouTube TV may sound like a good idea at first, but it’s hard to ignore all the obstacles that it will have to overcome.