YouTube TV: Still No Cigar

Google began selling its YouTube TV service in big markets on Wednesday. With it comes a new set of pluses and minuses, all of them formidable enough to make a prospective customer either jump at the chance — or jump out of the way.

And that, in a nutshell, is the same thing I can say about every one of the streaming services so far. Nothing is perfect, and that goes for YouTube TV, too.

The price---$35 a month after a one month free sample--is pretty much what you’d pay for Playstation Vue, DirecTV Now and all but the very cheapest version of SlingTV. It’s the same price point Hulu is promising when it starts it service in the near future.

I’ve played with it for a while now and it seems ... fine. I would wish a category killer would emerge here. It’s as if a new franchise hamburger joint has opened on every corner. It’s hard to differentiate because it’s not like one streamer really has anything that much more compelling than the other.



More than the competitors, its seems YouTube TV really isn’t at all interested in cord-cutters (usually older people) and especially interested in cord-nevers (younger people). It doesn’t try as hard to mimic a cable service.

For example one subscription can cover five users using three devices simultaneously, suggesting rather strongly YouTube TV is mainly designed for individual viewing, not for the nuclear family gathered around the old family room flatscreen.

For now, YouTube TV works with Chromecast (but not so well with the first generation, YouTube warns) and on Android TV sets. But it’s not available on Apple or Roku or through Amazon Prime Video. YouTube TV will give away Chromecast devices to early subscribers.

Still I like that I can quickly go from watching ordinary television fare like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” to YouTubers like “Rhett & Link” as if YouTube is just another channel on my cable system.

That is a big reason YouTube launched YouTube TV--to get massive YouTube more leverage with television advertisers. And because for YouTube TV to work like it should, it needs to know your location. That means it’s likely a lot of advertisers will too, unless you opt out.

So it’s a little different kind of streamer. The YouTube TV search and recommend function and DVR also helps make a neat separation from TV channels and guides.

Where I travel in the five cities YouTube TV operates --New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia -- I should be able to access local broadcast network stations, live and also DVR programming.

But if, for example, a Chicagoan goes to Indianapolis, he’s not going to see Chicago broadcast stations, and he’s not going to see Indianapolis stations either, until Indy and affiliated stations in other cities make deals with YouTube. But that person can still DVR other cable channels or playback broadcast network content recorded earlier.

There’s no PBS, whatsoever. And there can be peculiar blackouts. Right now, YouTube doesn’t offer any Viacom or Time Warner channels, so no MTV, Comedy Central, no CNN or HBO availability. (Showtime costs extra.)

A great benefit to YouTube TV is that the DVR function is limitless and is maintained for nine months. 

As Ben Popper notes in his early critique at the Verge, “This is a compelling offer when stacked up against some of the other streaming services in the market. Sling TV charges $5 per month for 50 hours of cloud DVR storage and Sony’s Vue service offers unlimited storage, but only for 28 days. DirecTV Now currently has no cloud DVR option, although it’s said something will be announced in the near future.

"Hulu has said it will offer a cloud DVR with its streaming service, but still hasn’t set a firm date for the launch. Since there is no reason to limit yourself, adding items to your DVR becomes kind of addictive; I found myself adding almost everything that seemed remotely interesting, just in case.”

To me, that’s not a deal-making selling point. Most of what I DVR is stuff I EV-ER (EVentually ERase) without watching. After a couple decades of being sold on TV packages that offer much, much more, I am no longer so impressed by capacity I never use.

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