When YouTube launched its streaming TV service earlier this year, few people could watch it on their televisions. Monday’s announcement of YouTube TV apps for smart TVs and streaming media devices helps plug that gap. Despite this, YouTube TV still falls behind competing services.
YouTube TV’s product manager, Okalo Ikhena, put a positive spin on things when he said, “you’ve streamed live sports, local and national news, and can’t-miss shows on your phone, tablet and computer. Now, we’re psyched to announce our new YouTube TV app, made for the big screen.”
Yet Ikhena glosses over the fact that YouTube TV arrived in early 2017 with a weak app lineup compared to its competitors. Other streaming services launched with a wider range of apps. The Dish Network’s Sling TV hit the market with mobile apps as well as apps for the Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming media players. AT&T’s DirecTV Now launched with apps available for Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast and smart TV’s from VIZIO and LeEco.
YouTube TV at launch had the tablet and mobile use case covered with apps for Android and iOS. The only device that supported the living room television, however, was Google’s own Chromecast.
A Weak First Impression
Reviews in mainstream publications like Consumer Reports (“support for the service is also light”) to tech-centric sites like Ars Technica (“arguably the worst part of YouTube TV”) panned YouTube TV’s anemic app support.
CNET’s David Katzmaier commented that “until Google develops actual apps for devices like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV — like its competitors already have — [YouTube TV] feels half-baked for living-room use.”
The Television Still Matters
The reason YouTube’s approach made a bad first impression is that most people don’t watch TV on their phones – they watch TV on their televisions.
Just as YouTube TV was rolling out, the Video Advertising Bureau issued a report (PDF) that found 92% of the average American’s video-watching happens on a television rather than a computer or mobile device.
Before you think that number is skewed by stuck-in-the-mud Baby Boomers, the Video Advertising Bureau found that Millennials watch video on their televisions 3-4 times as much as on their smartphones.
That must have become obvious to the folks at YouTube TV since Ikhena added in his announcement that “over half the time spent watching YouTube TV is consumed through Chromecast on the big screen.”
That’s right. Even though it launched as a mobile-centric service, most people preferred watching YouTube TV on their televisions.
YouTube TV Still Needs More Apps
Any day now, YouTube TV apps will appear for the Xbox One and smart TVs running the Android TV system. Apps for other smart TVs and the Apple TV will appear “in the coming weeks”. YouTube TV’s expanded app lineup helps fix its weak support for televisions, but it doesn’t go far enough.
That’s because YouTube TV omitted two important apps: Roku and the Amazon Fire TV. According to research firm Parks Associates, Roku and Fire TV accounted for 61% of the streaming media players in American households. The Chromecast and Apple TV, on the other hand, only amount to 33% of the streaming media player installed base.
The chances that Fire TV owners will get a YouTube TV app seem slim. Recode reported that, even though Fire TV is based on Android, the poisoned relationship between Google and Amazon will keep YouTube TV from appearing on Amazon’s products.
A for Effort, but Needs Improvement
When people consider a streaming TV service like YouTube TV as a replacement for their basic cable subscription, mobile, and tablet use is a nice benefit. However, as the data shows, streaming services still need to make living room support their number one priority.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.