YouTube’s steady expansion beyond cat videos took a new direction in early 2017 when it launched YouTube TV. The live TV streaming service promised to deliver Millennials a new television experience, but its benefits matter to all generations. Our 2020 YouTube TV review will show you how its focus on local TV, sports, and unique features combine into a solid option for cord-cutters.
What is YouTube TV?
YouTube’s live TV streaming service launched in early 2017. The streaming giant insisted at the time that being an internet version of cable wasn’t YouTube TV’s goal. As YouTube executive Kelly Merriman explained to CNET, YouTube’s goal was to “reimagine the television experience for the new generation.”
YouTube decided it would give Millennials TV content in a way that wouldn’t tie this new generation to a traditional TV screen. That led the company to build a strategy based on two requirements:
- Get local station streaming rights before offering YouTube TV in a market.
- Go to market with mobile apps rather than apps for televisions.
Taking this approach meant a slower rollout for YouTube TV than some of its competitors. Hulu with Live TV launched a month later. By the end of 2017, CNBC reported, Hulu had fifty percent more subscribers than YouTube TV.
Two years on, YouTube TV has expanded dramatically and is now a great option for just about anyone. Although its price on the upper end for live TV streaming services of its kind, YouTube TV has a much wider selection of local TV and sports content than most of its competitors. It focuses on sharing also means that it’s a great option for families and friends.
At present, YouTube TV is a great replacement for traditional cable, although it’s no longer at a price point that works for every budget.
Whether you need sports, entertainment, or local TV broadcasts, YouTube TV likely has you covered. Although the service was limited in its geographic availability at launch and throughout its first year of service, as of 2019 and beyond, it’s available in almost every US zip code.
The service comes in at close to $50 per month, but that price reflects its primary focus on local broadcast affiliates, regional sports networks, and national sports networks. That may not be attractive to some subscribers, who want none of those, which is why we recommend Philo antenna as a good alternative.
However, anyone who wants to distance themselves from the long-term plans offered by traditional cable TV providers should strongly consider YouTube TV as a potential option.
YouTube TV Pros and Cons
Its selection of channels, format, and features make YouTube TV one of the best-liked cable TV alternatives on the market. It’s still not without its downsides, however.
- Highly shareable. YouTube TV offers 3 simultaneous streams per account and provides up to 6 individual profiles per account as well.
- Large sports channel offering. There are over a dozen sports channels available through YouTube TV and numerous regional sports networks.
- Great for local TV. Google invested a lot of time and effort securing local broadcast affiliate partnerships for its service, to include NBC, CBS, FOX, and ABC, where available.
- Extensive DVR option. The service offers unlimited DVR recording for every profile user, with a 9-month expiration date on videos.
- Pricey – and getting pricier. YouTube TV’s focus on locals and sports caused a few price hikes that now put it at just under $50 per month.
- Some critical networks missing. You won’t find some key networks here, including History Channel.
- Somewhat messy interface. While its interface is navigable, it’s not the best when compared to services like PlayStation Vue or Philo.
- Limited device support. While the service is growing its app library, there’s a lot to be desired.
Much like Hulu with Live TV or Philo, YouTube TV offers just one subscription package, with a few add-on channels you can add on if you want.
For $49.99 per month, YouTube TV offers 70+ channels. The channels you get are mostly the same, but your local broadcast networks and regional sports networks will vary depending on what contracts Google was able to obtain for your region.
Each subscription comes with the option to create 6 user profiles, each of which gets a 9-month unlimited cloud DVR. While other services allow you to tack on upgrades to your features, YouTube TV does not. There’s some wiggle room for channels, but your features will stay the same.
YouTube TV’s 70+ channels are heavy on sports, but there’s a great mixture of entertainment, news, and local broadcast networks as well.
The full list of channels for most YouTube TV subscribers includes:
- Animal Planet
- BBC America
- BBC World News
- Big Ten Network
- Cartoon Network
- Cheddar Business
- Cheddar News
- NBC Sports
- CBS Sports
- The CW
- Discovery Channel
- Disney XD
- Disney Channel
- Disney Junior
- SEC Network
- ESPN News
- Fox Business
- Fox News Channel
- Fox Sports
- Food Network
- Fox Sports 1
- Fox Sports 2
- Golf Channel
- Investigation Discovery
- Local Now
- Los Angeles Football Club
- MLB Network
- My Network TV
- National Geographic
- Nat Geo WILD
- NBA TV
- NBC Sports Network
- Olympic Channel
- Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
- Orlando City SC
- Tennis Channel
- Travel Channel
- Turner Classic Movies
- Universal Kids
- WE TV
- YouTube Originals
YouTube regularly adds channels. This list is current as of this time of writing, so any additions on YouTube TV’s part may not be reflected here.
Part of its price is because of the local channels offered through YouTube TV. The service has contracts to provide access to ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, TheCW, MyNetworkTV, and Telemundo, as well as regional sports networks (RSNs).
You likely won’t get all of those in every region, however. In fact, in some regions, you may only get 1-2 of those. All of that depends on what contracts Google is ablet o secure in your area.
You can check which local channels are available to you from YouTube TV by going to the site and using the local channel lookup tool in the center of the page. The tool will change the listed channels to what’s currently available to you based on your location.
YouTube TV Stream Quality
The streaming quality throughout my evaluation was consistently smooth. I never ran into buffering issues when streaming through my Ethernet-connected Apple TV. The experience over Wi-Fi on an iPad and Roku wasn’t any different.
Most of the networks provide full high definition video streams running at 1080p. Many of the Disney-owned channels, like ESPN and Freeform, stream in 720p high definition. Disney makes up for that lower resolution by streaming at 60 frames per second. That high frame rate makes the fast-paced action in sports and movies play much smoother.
While watching TV, you can add the TV show or live event to your Library. You can also set up notifications to get alerts about new episodes. The settings option lets you adjust video quality and toggle closed captioning.
Streaming on-demand or from the DVR also yielded high-quality video streams and no buffering on a good internet connection (150 Mbps down).
One area where YouTube TV has struggled a bit is in device support. The service currently has a rather large library of apps that cover every major streaming device.
The full list of supported devices for YouTube TV includes:
- TV streaming media players: Apple TV (4th gen and up), Chromecast and Roku (most models), Amazon Fire TV Cube and TV Stick (most models)
- Smart TVs: Android TV (select models), Samsung TV (2016+ models only), LG TV (2016+ models only), Vizio (select SmartCast models), Hisense (select models), Sharp (select models)
- Mobile devices and tablets: Android (5.0 and up), iOS (9.1 and up)
- Game consoles: Xbox One (all versions)
- Desktop browsers: Most Mac and PC browsers
This list is subject to change and may not reflect any recent changes on YouTube TV’s website.
YouTube TV on Roku
Roku devices were among the first to offer dedicated YouTube TV apps. The service currently works on most Roku TV players and Roku-enabled TVs that can connect to and download apps from the Roku Channels Store. The YouTube TV app has over 60,000 ratings on the Roku Channels Store with a 3.9 out of 5 stars.
YouTube TV on Fire TV Stick
After much wrangling, there is now a YouTube TV app for Amazon Fire TV devices, including the Fire TV Stick. The app is well received by Fire TV users with a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Most negative complaints point to freezing issues on the Fire TV.
YouTube TV on Apple TV
There is a native YouTube TV app available for 4th generation Apple TV devices or newer. You can also use the service on Apple TV 4k devices. The app has good ratings on Apple’s app store, with 4 out of 5 stars.
YouTube TV on iPhones and iPads
The 4 out of 5-star rating for the iOS version of YouTube TV is primarily highlighted by positive reviews. Negative reviews are mixed and appear to more reflect quirks with users’ devices, but there are some user interface and feature complaints that exist across all YouTube TV apps and devices.
YouTube TV on Android Phones and Tablets
Android users appear to love YouTube TV. They’ve given the Android app a 4.4 out of 5 stars across 70,000+ reviews. The negative reviews point to a random list of bugs, some of which include the screen going black and buffering issues.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of YouTube TV is the on-demand library. Every channel available through the service offers some of its past content, but YouTube TV doesn’t make it easy to navigate through that content.
To find on-demand content from the channels on offer, you can either use the search function, browse by channel, or browse by Sports, Shows, Movies, News, or Family. Clicking any of the specific categories also offers further genre specifications you can browse by.
By default, YouTube TV will show you any live content matching your categories first, so you’ll need to scroll down to locate the on-demand options available.
At present, the service offers hundreds of hours of on-demand video from all of the channels it carries. None of the content is YouTube TV-specific, however, with the exception of a few YouTube Originals.
Also, don’t be fooled by the “Library” category. This is not for your on-demand library, but for your saved content in your DVR, or content YouTube TV has flagged for you based on your watch history.
The Library section displays any content you’ve recorded using YouTube TV’s cloud DVR. Recordings are categorized by shows, movies and sports. You can also get a list of new episodes as well as recently recorded content.
YouTube has one of the more generous recording policies. Rather than cap the number of hours you can record, everyone on your account can record as much as they want. YouTube TV will delete the recordings after nine months.
The cloud DVR does not let you adjust how it records TV shows. Any time a show airs on any network, the cloud DVR adds it to your library. That’s not such a big deal when you’re recording a new TV series like The Resident.
The only way to record the latest episode of NCIS or Law & Order, on the other hand, is to record every single episode.
As you can see from the image above, my YouTube TV DVR is rather underused. To get to your DVR, you’ll need to go to the “Library” section. From there, you can access your recorded shows, as well as your “Most Watched” shows.
YouTube TV offers unlimited cloud DVR recording. Your recorded videos will last for 9 months, and then they’ll expire. As well, each of the 6 profile users for each account has their own DVR storage.
Even if your recorded videos disappear, they may still be available on YouTube TV. Some channels choose to keep their content and offer it through YouTube TV long term. And for those channels that YouTube TV has TV Everywhere deals with, you may be able to access older shows, movies, and other content through their dedicated TV Everywhere apps or channel websites. Just use your YouTube TV login information where the service asks for TV provider or cable provider information.
YouTube TV Customer Support
Having problems with your YouTube TV account, or need some extra assistance with features or glitches? You have three options for support:
- Live chat
- Phone chat (call back only, limited availability)
- Email support
We tend to favor online live chat options, as this is the fastest way to get support. It’s also more reliable than YouTube TV’s phone chat support, which has limited availability. Phone chat is often listed as “unavailable” with no mention of what times of day or week it is available.
We found chat support took seconds to connect. Unfortunately, the customer support agent wasn’t able to answer our pressing question (when Amazon Fire TV support would be added), but she was pleasant enough to chat with.
You’ll be placed in a queue as soon as you connect. In most cases, there won’t be many others or any others in the queue, so the connection is fast.
Google makes it easy to cancel your YouTube TV account. To cancel, simply do the following:
- In your YouTube TV account, go to “Settings”
- Click on the small “Deactivate Membership” link
- Choose “Cancel Membership”
- Select your cancellation reason, then fully cancel
That’s it! You can also suspend your account if you plan to re-up your YouTube account later and don’t want to go through the hassle of signing up fresh.
YouTube TV Refund Policy
You cannot get a refund through YouTube TV. This is a common policy across all internet TV streaming services of this kind. Instead, you’ll be able to finish the remainder of the paid-for month.
If you like everything else about YouTube TV, but can’t do without History Channel and some other entertainment channels YouTube TV lacks, there is a solution. Subscribing to both YouTube TV and Philo gives you the best of both worlds. That said, YouTube TV’s price increases make that a bit more difficult an option for anyone looking to save money versus traditional cable.
Outside of the missing networks, increasing prices, and some issues with its user interface, YouTube TV is one of the best services of its kind on the market. At present, it’s well-designed for sharing among family and friends, and its features are among the best you’ll find on the market.