On Thursday, February 28, Google announced an exciting new prospect for cord cutters: YouTube TV. YouTube TV is Google’s attempt to enter the IPTV market, an area that has become increasingly saturated by a large number of different startups hoping to capitalize on the growing move away from expensive cable television plans. Still, this announcement comes with a lot of unanswered questions, especially among those looking to ditch cable for good.
YouTube TV: What We Know
SPOILER ALERT: No missing your favorite shows or live sports again!
— YouTube (@YouTube) February 28, 2017
Google’s announcement revealed what appears to be an effort that has been some time in the making. In its announcement, officially delivered by company Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki at Google’s Playa Vista location, Google revealed that the project has in the works for two years. As reported by the LA Times, this move is specifically directed toward millennials, although it is likely the “skinny bundle” service will attract a far wide audience.
“There is no question that millennials love great TV content, but what we have seen is they don’t want to watch it in the traditional setting,” explained Wojcicki.
On its official blog, Google’s YouTube division posted more details for interested customers. This includes all of the following benefits:
- A $35-dollar price tag
- Live TV streaming from 40 networks, including CBS, ABC, NBC, ESPN, and major news channels such as CNN and Fox News
- Access to YouTube Red originals
- No contract commitments (you can cancel anytime)
- Unlimited cloud DVR storage
- 6 separate accounts for the price of one
- Integration with multiple devices, including Android, iOS, and Chromecast
- Two addon networks (Showtime and Fox Soccer Plus) with the potential for more in the future
At present, the service is not yet available. However, YouTube plans to roll out this service to major cities and metropolitan areas on a trial basis, and then move into other service areas. In the official blog post, YouTube Product Management Director Christian Oestlien writes, “YouTube TV will be available soon in the largest U.S. markets and will quickly expand to cover more cities across the country.”
Interested users can sign up by entering their email address and zip code. Although Google has not specifically stated which U.S. markets will be first to try out the service, its statement would appear to indicate that cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas are likely contenders to be among the early adopters.
At present, YouTube’s service will be entering into a market currently dominated by equally-priced alternatives. Most notably, in 2016, Hulu announced a similar service that was scheduled to launch in Q1 of 2017. Meanwhile, Sling TV, which has plans starting at $20 for 30 channels and offers a $40 a month plan similar to Google’s offering, surpassed 1 million subscribers as of October 2016. DirecTV also offers their own “skinny bundle” service, as does PlayStation with its VUE service.
All of these IPTV options are creating a distinctly crowded market. Nevertheless, the number of cord cutters continues to grow year-over-year, indicating that the market may be able to support such a large number of competing services, at least for the time being.
Additionally, with its integration of YouTube Red Originals into the mix, Google appears to be trying to rescue it’s more or less unsuccessful paid video streaming service while competing in the in-house content development market that both Netflix and Amazon have been dominating. Those services have been able to draw in more subscriptions thanks to their must-watch shows available exclusively on their respective platforms.
What We Don’t Know
Despite the media blitz, Google did not reveal an incredibly large amount of detail. While it appears clear that the service and the channels you receive will in some way be tied to your physical location (zip code), how Google intends to ensure that viewers are watching while in their designated zip codes has yet to be determined.
Amongst the cord cutting community, the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to access geographically-locked content is increasingly popular. Given Google intends to deliver localized channels through the service, it is not inconceivable to imagine that many users who are locked out of certain localized content may attempt to use VPN services to get around any content blocks Google puts into place.
In particular, international users who also want access to the new service may be left wondering if the service will hit their shores. For some, the prospect of accessing coveted American television networks such as ESPN may be too hard to ignore. Many will likely seek a workaround to access American content, even if and/or when YoutTube TV makes it to their country.
As little is known about the current account creation process, questions still exist as to whether international users may be able to sign up with a borrowed zip code. There is a chance Google will utilize methods already employed by the likes of Sling TV, requiring user credit card or bank information aligned to a US address. On its Terms of Service page, YouTube appears to indicate that such false account creation is against its policy.
Kodi and YouTube TV
Additionally, Google’s new service may have a direct impact on stream fetching through the Kodi Media Center. Kodi is an increasingly popular multimedia software application that allows users to access streaming content from online websites using plugins known as addons. Currently, many of Kodi’s addons use Python scripts that pull video streams directly from YouTube and stream them through the application.
Google indicated that YouTube TV will utilize its own app and website, which also points to a separate login process. Will this integrate with those who already have Google accounts, or will this require a new account? Many other services that currently utilize or fetch YouTube videos, such as the Kodi Media Center, may need to receive updates to integrate with the new service. Indeed, the current Kodi YouTube addon will likely not work with the new YouTube Live service, meaning developers in that community will need to create a new addon to help deliver YouTube Live content through the software.
YouTube’s current Terms of Service also appear to imply that any such Kodi addon fetching video would need permission from Google before it is used. In the Terms of Service, Google simply directs users to its general YouTube ToS page, which states:
“You agree not to distribute in any medium any part of the Service or the Content without YouTube’s prior written authorization unless YouTube makes available the means for such distribution through functionality offered by the Service (such as the Embeddable Player).”
As well as the following:
“You agree not to access Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Service itself, the Embeddable Player, or other explicitly authorized means YouTube may designate.”
One reading of these statements would be that utilizing a Python script to fetch YouTube Live data and render it through Kodi would be against the ToS. However, other readings and interpretations might note that, as Kodi can act more as a web browser at times and YouTube does not prohibit the use of embedded video, the use of a Kodi addon would not violate this TOS. Given that Kodi already maintains and uses such programs to fetch YouTube content, it is likely the latter will be the case for YouTube Live, meaning viewing through Kodi would not violate the terms. Nevertheless, Google may view YouTube TV differently given it’s a paid service.
AddonHQ plans to follow this story closely. We will provide updates as we learn about them, including information we receive from VPN services regarding the upcoming service, and, if possible, clarifications from Google regarding viewing through alternative software medium like the Kodi Media Center.