Science & Technology



Jennifer Van Grove: YouTube TV's about-face on TV apps is the right move

Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

There's something commendable about a company that can publicly admit to being wrong. That's exactly what Google did when it recently announced a major shift in strategy around YouTube TV, it's streaming skinny bundle for cord-cutters.

The about-face started on Oct. 30 with the launch of a YouTube TV app for Xbox and Android TV devices. Just this month, the service debuted dedicated apps for newer Samsung and LG smart TV sets. In the coming months, YouTube TV will release a standalone app for both Apple TV and Roku devices, as well as Sony TVs.

This is a marked departure -- a complete 180, really -- from before.

In fact, YouTube TV launched in April with tunnel vision, taking a firm stance against dedicated TV apps.

Unlike its rivals building streaming skinny bundles, YouTube side-stepped the TV app for streaming sticks and boxes, and went instead with an all-or-nothing mobile approach. That meant the YouTube TV smartphone app (available on iPhone and Android) was the one and only way to stream on TVs. With this setup, shows are "cast" from the app to your TV by way of Google's Chromecast streaming stick (or Airplay on Apple TV).

Readers may recall in my initial review of the service that, despite an initial reticence, I strongly advocated for the smartphone-app-to-TV casting process. My rationale was, and still is, that the mobile-app-as-remote makes for a delightful browsing experience, especially when compared to convoluted TV guides and dated cable TV interfaces. Finding a channel, show or sports team by way of your fingers just feels right.

I haven't changed my mind.

Rather, I believe that the Google-run property realized the strategy tipped a little too far toward millennial viewing patterns, thus shunning a growing audience of older cord-cutters who weren't ready to embrace such a radical shift to their TV viewing experience.

Though 18-to-33 year-olds are cutting the cord at higher rates, the behavior for people 34 and older is on the rise, growing from 8 percent of U.S. broadband households in the demographic group in 2015 to 12 percent in 2017, according to Parks Associates.

Christian Oestlien, product management director at YouTube TV, confessed to the company's oversight in a recent interview with The Verge.


"When we launched the service, we positioned it as a mobile-first product. A lot of that was about breaking the association with the DVR and set-top box, this hardware in the living room you have to rent that gets outdated really quickly. We were trying to get people to grok that this is TV that lives on your phone, a cloud DVR, all of the above," he said. "What we saw in practice was that the majority of our watch time was in the living room, through Cast. And the number one request we get from consumers is more options, native options, for the living room."

Now, YouTube TV has a fighting chance to attract regular folks to its fold at a pivotal time. The cord-cutters group continues to grow as pay TV subscribers sign off at a faster pace than ever. AT&T, for instance, lost 385,000 of its traditional pay TV customers (DirecTV and U-verse combined) in the third quarter.

And YouTube TV offers a very compelling $35-per-month package. While there are noticeable holes in the service's channel lineup -- mainly Turner-owned stations -- YouTube TV comes with all the broadcast networks, plenty of sports-friendly stations and some lifestyle favorites (AMC, Bravo, FX). Throw in the unlimited storage, cloud-based DVR and an extensive on-demand library, and you get a competitive bundle in terms of both price and content selection.

Of course, YouTube TV's new TV app stance isn't as all-inclusive as it could be. The Google-owned product has no plans to release an app for Amazon Fire TV sticks and boxes. And, as far as streaming device ownership goes, Amazon is second only to Roku with 24 percent market share, according to Parks Associates. So hopefully the company will rethink that decision, too.

About The Writer

Jennifer Van Grove covers e-commerce and digital lifestyle for The San Diego Union Tribune. Readers may send her email at

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