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YouTube TV: Everything You Need to Know About One of the Fastest Growing Virtual Pay TV Services

(Image credit: YouTube)

YouTube remains the world’s biggest ad-supported streaming video operator, generating a record $17.2 billion in ad revenue in Q3 2021. But lately, YouTube and its corporate parent, Alphabet, seem committed to the subscription model, as well.

That commitment seems to have paid off. 

According to LightShed Partners' Richard Greenfield, YouTube TV is now the biggest vMVPD service, surpassing Hulu Plus Live TV and Dish Networks’ Sling TV, the first entry into the market back in 2015, in September. Greenfield said the four-year-old YouTube TV now has 4 million subscribers.

Alphabet last reported YouTube TV numbers in October 2020, putting the service at 3 million subs.

Also: YouTube TV Dropping Sinclair’s Sports Nets

Virtual MVPDs, or vMVPDs as they’re also known, don’t have a great reputation on Wall Street. These live-streamed versions of traditional pay TV services have been offered at loss-leader prices. Many predicted that Google and its YouTube subsidiary—which have given up quickly on unprofitable business before—would cut quickly on the vMVPD game. 

But based on YouTube TV’s recent aggressive dealmaking, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Also: YouTube TV Gains Distribution Into Windstream Kinetic Broadband Homes

Dealmaking

YouTube TV and Google have found themselves in the middle of several high profile disputes.

Most recently, YouTube and Google reached a deal with Roku that keeps the flagship YouTube app on the Roku Channel Store and restores the YouTube TV app, which was removed from the Roku Channel Store in April. In October, Roku had warned that the YouTube app could be removed from the Roku Channel store Dec. 9.

Also in October, YouTube TV reached a deal with NBCUniversal for NBCU's broadcast and cable networks. The sticking point in negotiations reportedly was carriage of NBCU's streamer Peacock, which was not part of the October deal.

In 2020, YouTube TV made a number of deals with mid-sized telecoms, including a deal with Windstream. The telecom is looking to ditch its own unprofitable linear video business, and is offering YouTube TV to subscribers of its Kinetic-branded broadband service.

Likewise, cable operator WOW! announced that YouTube TV—along with vMVPD rivals Sling TV, fuboTV and Philo—will be offered to internet service customers in Charlotte, N.C.

These agreements with mid-sized telecoms followed an earlier announcement from Verizon, which is offering YouTube TV as an option to its fixed wireless 5G customers. 

Also: HBO Max Gets Carriage in New YouTube TV Deal

AT&T’s WarnerMedia also signed a new distribution agreement with YouTube TV that makes HBO and Cinemax available to subscribers and includes a commitment to distribute HBO Max when it launches.

In May 2020, YouTube TV announced a renewed and expanded carriage agreement with ViacomCBS, which will add BET, MTV, Nickelodeon and 11 other networks to the virtual MVPD service.

YouTube TV's core service is priced at $65 a month — it raised its monthly rate $15 in July — and delivers more than 85 networks. Local affiliate/O&O access to the Big Four broadcast networks is included in most U.S. markets. In terms of sports, YouTube TV has all the big national sports carriers locked up—ESPN, Fox Sports 1 & 2, TNT and others are included. The NFL Channel, NBA TV and MLB Network are featured, as are select regional sports channels. In L.A., for example, you get Fox Sports West and Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Subscribers can also get NFL RedZone as an add-on.

News selections include CNN, BBC, Cheddar and CNBC, as well as Fox News and MSNBC. And notably, YouTube TV has recently added PBS stations to its lineup. PBS had largely eschewed the vMVPD market until signing onto YouTube TV. 

Also: YouTube TV To Stream Hallmark Channels

Cloud DVR storage is unlimited, and users can share their YouTube TV account with six family members. Subscribers can stream their YouTube TV service on up to three devices at once. And YouTube TV app support includes Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google Chromecast on the OTT device side; Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox One in terms of gaming consoles; LG, Sharp, Vizio and Samsung in terms of smart TVs; and iOS and Android for mobile devices. 

According to equity research firm MoffettNathanson, the vMVPD market recently surpassed 10 million users. And YouTube has the major features that these consumers like—the ability to sign up and quit the service instantly without truck roll; and none of the hidden fees found in traditional linear services, such as regional sports network fees. 

The vMVPD game will become more profitable for YouTube TV, as well as any of its competitors who can increase subscribers to, say, past the 5 million and achieve some scale. Until then, YouTube TV—which started out with a $35-a-month price point—will likely continue to incur losses for parents Google and umbrella Wall Street presence Alphabet.

Also: Sony PlayStation Vue: Requiem for a Revolutionary

Others have given up. Notably, Sony gave up on its PlayStation Vue service, which offered a well-reviewed channel selection and user interface, similar to YouTube TV. 

But the aggressive dealmaking of late suggests that Google will stick with YouTube TV, at least in the near term. ■