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YouTube Leanback: Sorry, That Ain't TV

You can’t make silk purses out of pigs ears.

Nor can YouTube fabricate an engaging, linear TV-like experience from a pastiche of random video clips that are frequently poor quality, boring, weird and/or just plain lame.

YouTube Leanback, introduced at Google’s I/O developers conference in May along with the Google TV project, strings together an automated playlist of clips based on videos you’ve watched (the service requires logging into a YouTube account). The full-screen interface is designed for TV displays and TV remotes: It provides only up-down-left-right and select controls.

The idea obviously is to make people watch YouTube more than just a few minutes at a time, to drive up engagement and, theoretically, ad revenue.

But this is not at all like watching TV. To me, watching 10 minutes of YouTube Leanback was as satisfying as eating a pound of Doritos for dinner.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of really fun stuff on YouTube, including the ridiculously infectious Double Rainbow Song.

But there’s just too much randomness on YouTube to make this idea work. Worse, there’s no way to tell the service to play clips similar to one you’ve actually found interesting — a “more like this” button would go a long way to making Leanback somewhat useful.

Here’s what YouTube Leanback regurgitated for me this morning:

> Family Ties theme song

> “Hip Hop Drummers”

> Microsoft KIN: Kin Spot

> Satellite Television Info:  How to Burn Dish Network Cards

> Levis New Friends Store Social Shopping Site

> Katie [Couric] Sings With Bette Midler

> DJ Tiesto - Perfect Silence

> Family Guy - Fast Animals Slow Children

The only things that caught my interest out of this odd melange were the drummers (not bad) and the Family Guy bit — but the latter was just a promo to drive people to Hulu.

YouTube Leanback is a cute parlor trick, but it makes for terrible TV.