After many months of rumors, YouTube has officially announced its entry into streaming live TV. YouTube TV will let you access live and recorded content from major networks, both the big broadcast players as well as some options typically found on cable. All of this will be coupled alongside YouTube's existing content, and it'll work on nearly any screen that YouTube is available on. The new service will be available later this spring to customers in the US for $35 a month with no contract; that lets up to six users access content whenever they want.
Available networks include CBS, Fox, NBC and CBS along with cable players USA and FX. Sports networks include ESPN, Fox Sports and NBCSN -- there's a total of 10 sports networks available. You can also add on Showtime for an additional fee. The local affiliates for your city will also be included, so you can watch news and programming broadcasts from the same channels you'd see over the air. All in all, the total of "more than 40 networks" is comparable to options like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, although each service varies (YouTube TV's channel lineup is below).
Still, there are a lot of major networks missing. Most notable are channels from Viacom, Discovery, A&E, AMC and Turner (including TBS and TNT). CNN is also notably absent from the news networks available. This is where PlayStation Vue has an advantage -- the $35 plan from Sony includes CNN, TBS, TNT, AMC and a number of other channels that YouTube TV doesn't offer.
YouTube TV includes unlimited cloud DVR storage, so you can add any series or sports team to your favorites and it'll save all of them for you. Naturally, YouTube will also use the massive amount of data it has on your interests to help serve you recommendations thanks to its machine learning network. YouTube TV will also eventually work with Google Home, so you will be able to ask Home to start playing a show on your Chromecast and it'll "just work."
The mobile app features three main sections: live, library and home. The live tab shows everything currently being broadcast organized by network. As you scroll, you'll see a live preview of what's on each channel. If you want to watch, you can just tap and it'll start playing. If you want to watch something later, you can tap the plus icon and start recording a show. When watching in portrait mode, you'll see recommendations down below it, but you can, of course, flip the phone on its side to go into full screen mode. There's also an ever-present "cast" button if you want to send video to your Chromecast or a compatible TV.
The app's search page lets you see recommendations by genre and network as well as specific categories tailored to your viewing habits. You can also search for something like "time travel" and get a list of movies or TV shows that feature time travel in the plot. Typing in a specific show will take you to a page listing out all the episodes available to you at any given time. The library is pretty self-explanatory. It features all the shows you've recorded, sports teams you're interested in and also lets you view everything scheduled to be recorded on your DVR.
Lastly, the "home" tab is similar to what you currently see when using the basic YouTube experience. It's full of things you've watched recently, recommendations based on what you watch, things you've been watching that you might want to resume, and so on.
The company also wants to offer excellent customer service, something a YouTube executive said is one of cable's biggest pain points right now. You'll be able to contact customer service through the YouTube app any time, either via text chat or voice chat.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that the company was doing this as a way to reach the many younger people who don't want TV on a standard TV screen. People are watching plenty of TV content on YouTube already -- particularly clips from late night shows and sports -- but the company wanted customers to be able to get more TV content in that fashion. Wojcicki said that YouTube wants to offer customers TV "whenever they want, on any screen, on their terms."
This is a separate product offering from YouTube Red, which the company launched in late 2015 as a way to give users an ad-free YouTube experience. It also features some original programming, but overall it's been more in keeping with the personality-based content rather than longer, high-end productions you might find from the big networks. However, YouTube TV will contain all of YouTube Red's original programming.
Despite the in-depth presentation YouTube gave today, there are a few questions about how YouTube TV will work in practice. Most over-the-top services have some restrictions about what episodes of shows from different networks are available or if you'l be able to save content indefinitely. There may end up being some catches, but YouTube said that users will be able to save "virtually" anything they watch on YouTube TV.
The company focused its big-screen conversation around streaming to your TV with a Chromecast, and in a follow-up conversation, a YouTube executive said that would be the only way to get content to a TV for starters. Chromecast and cast-enabled devices will be compatible, but other devices like Apple TV, Roku, the PS4 and Xbox One will initially be excluded. However, YouTube did indicate that it would work with other companies to get YouTube TV on other platforms in the future.
As for when this will get to consumers, YouTube isn't saying just yet -- it shouldn't be too long, though. The company says YouTube TV will be available in the next few months.
Update, 4:30PM ET: YouTube executives answered a few questions for the press during its event. The company confirmed that the service will only work in the US and noted that while you get access to YouTube Red content, you don't get the full ad-free YouTube experience. The company also confirmed that because of Verizon's deal with the NFL, you won't be able to watch NFL games on your phone. You'll be able to on the desktop or a TV, but not on mobile.
Fortunately for those of us who hate ads, you can fast forward or rewind DVR content, so you can skip right over commercials.