Clearly, YouTube had the television set in mind when launching the Leanback in beta late Wednesday. The company has been working on the feature for months. Today, it works on the computer, but when it emerges from the video site's test bed it will likely become the foundation for Google TV. It relies on the same keys as a TV remote control -- the arrow keys and the enter key.
While the feature interfaces with the keys similar to a remote, subscribers will find that videos automatically lineup for viewing -- either ones that friends have shared or those marked as of interest. YouTube Leanback lets members sign in to run personalized video feeds played as full screen with all the controls powered by the arrows on a QWERTY computer keyboard without browsing or clicking. There's an option to access rented videos and make the feed more personal by connecting YouTube with Facebook accounts.
Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied 2.8 hours per day for the average person in 2009 ages 15 and over, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Google hopes to capture some of that time. Google admits that users of its YouTube service typically spend less than 15 minutes a day watching videos. The goal to provide users with a passive experience aims to increase viewing times that advertisers will want to support.
YouTube users will not stay on the site longer unless the video quality improves. David Hallerman, senior analyst at research firm eMarketer, says that along with the content, the Leanback feature needs to improve. "Let's remember the feature is still in beta, but the question is really how much do people want that lean back experience online," he says.
Unlike Pandora, the online music service, video doesn't lend itself to the more passive mode of leaning back, according to Hallerman. Still, he believes Google will likely use YouTube as a test lab for Google TV. The impact for advertisers could depend more on the content and member adoption rates. The main factor that will increase consumer use becomes the types of videos offered -- something Google and YouTube continue to move forward on regardless of Google TV.
"It would make sense for Google to try out these incremental changes on YouTube first before integrating them into Google TV," Hallerman says. "These features could integrate into a larger package later on."