Let me be clear up front, since I’m about to say a lot of not-so-positive things about YouTube TV, Google’s new streaming TV service that launched in a handful of cities this week.
It’s an impressive product from a technical perspective, and easily the best of the growing number of products in the category from DirecTV, Sling TV, and Sony. The app is well-designed and easy to use. The streams are stable, something the competition has struggled with. And the unlimited DVR function is like having your own personal Netflix.
But there are far too many caveats and concessions with YouTube TV to make it a viable option for cord cutters today, and many of its restrictions are the ones that have plagued all the other streaming TV services. It’s a niche product, and it’s not going to grow into its own ambitions without some major improvements.
Here’s the rundown.
Right now, YouTube TV is only available in a handful of cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. It’ll expand from here, but don’t hold your breath if you’re expecting it to launch outside the US. Since YouTube TV is dedicated to offering local channels, that means it’ll have to negotiate streaming rights city by city in many cases. There’s also a chance it won’t be able to get all of them on board.
Channel selection and pricing
There are a little more than 40 channels available. While it’s great to have all four major networks and (soon) AMC, YouTube TV is still missing a lot of channels like Discovery, CNN, TBS, TNT, and HBO. It’ll likely take a lot more negotiating to get that content, and even then, it’ll be tough for YouTube to keep the price at $35 per month if it does.
Meanwhile, DirecTV and Sling TV offer packages with over 100 channels. And while $35 isn’t a bad price for 40 or so channels, competitors offer a lot more for your money. DirecTV now gives you over 60 channels for $35 per month, for example.
The great promise of streaming TV services is that they’re ideally supposed to let you watch TV wherever you are, no matter what device you have.
That’s not the case with YouTube TV, which only works on iPhone and Android for now. Want to watch on your television? You’ll need to beam the video from your phone to a Chromecast. We’re still waiting for apps that let you stream on smart TVs, Roku, Apple TV, video game consoles, and so on.
Even with ESPN on YouTube TV, watching live sports can still be a pain, thanks to blackout restrictions and other agreements sports leagues have with service providers. For example, you can’t watch NFL games on YouTube TV because Verizon has exclusive mobile streaming rights for now.
Local sports is a problem too. I couldn’t watch Mets games on YouTube TV this week because they air on SNY, a local sports network in New York City. It’s not on YouTube TV.
Google appears to be conflating two very different trends with YouTube TV
1.) Millennials and young people don’t like watching traditional, linear TV. They want what they want on demand.
2.) They want to watch content on their phones.
While both are true, it doesn’t make sense to mash the two trends together and provide linear content only on mobile devices with limited ways to watch on a big-screen TV. The cord-cutting trend is growing precisely because a new generation is growing up on the internet and sucking down content on demand without being slave to a programming schedule. Live TV only makes sense with limited programming like sports, and none of the streaming services do sports well.
The future of TV is still a long way away
Just about every major tech company and TV service has promised a radical transformation in the way we watch TV, but none of them have delivered. YouTube TV is proof that you can get the underlying tech right, but there are far too many hurdles getting the content people want on the devices they want. The best option if you you want to watch paid TV is, unfortunately, to still sign up for cable.