If you’re a YouTubeTV subscriber and you missed the email, August is going to bring yet another price increase for Google’s cable alternative streaming platform. Yes, the cord-cutting, price-friendly, cable alternative is raising its prices for the third time in three years and it’s not what I would consider a modest increase. Starting in August, the “membership” cost for YouTube TV will jump from $49.99 to $64.99 for current subscribers. New subscribers to the platform can grab a 2-week free trial but after that, you’re in the $65 boat with the rest of us. Now, I held off sharing my opinion so that I could ensure that I had the proper perspective about what Google is doing and what YouTube TV does offer to its users.
When YouTube TV rolled out in 2017, Google positioned it as one of the best cord-cutting options out there. With a price of only $35, YouTube TV offered a good variety of channels, live sports, unlimited DVR storage, and most importantly (in my opinion), access to local network affiliates which meant local news, weather, and sports. At launch, the service was limited to select markets but once it arrived across the country, it became a great option for users who wanted to cut ties with the cable company and were willing to sacrifice “some” of the channels they loved. That said, the latest price hike does include some new content from ViacomCBS.
Today we are also adding more of ViacomCBS’s family of channels to YouTube TV, which includes 8 of your favorites: BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land, and VH1.YouTubeTV
So, as I sat and pondered over the email I received from YouTube TV, I contemplated the value factor and whether or not the service is actually worth $65/month. As you can see in Google’s marketing material below, YouTube TV does offer a lot of perks and for the right household, it could be the perfect fit. If you are a sports fan, the platform gives you a lot of choices. For those who love to DVR programs and binge at mass, the unlimited cloud storage is a major plus that lets you take your recordings with you anywhere you go and it’s not something you’ll find from most of the other services, streaming or otherwise. YouTube TV’s channel list has topped 85+ which puts it on par with most halfway-decent cable packages and you won’t find a lot of “fluff” channels like NASA TV that streams hours of live coverage of that guy pushing a pallet jack around a warehouse. It also doesn’t hurt that YouTube TV can be used by 6 Google accounts and you can stream on 3 devices simultaneously at home or on the go. Personally, the only thing that keeps us from being 100% all-in on YouTube TV is the fact that it is missing A&E Networks. Multiple times I have done the “channel test” to see if I could part ways with my cable package and A&E’s lineup is now the only thing preventing me from doing so.
After stewing over this for a week, I came to the conclusion that YouTube TV is still a good value at $64.99 but alas, it still feels wrong. But why? If YouTube TV does truly offer a valuable alternative to cable, why does this $15 price increase feel like a slap in the face? I think my answer to that question boils down to the fact that Google isn’t a cable company. Not to say the company shouldn’t be dancing around in this space but instead, the internet giant was in a prime position to shake up the cable TV space entirely if YouTube TV was curated differently.
Blurring the lines
Cable companies offer packages. These packages may include all or most of the channels you and your family watch. If one package is missing key channels, you jump to the next bundle and take the hit directly to your wallet. Along with it, you get a plethora of channels you neither watch nor could even care about. Then, you pay for your DVR storage whether it’s local or cloud-based, you rent your hardware for eternity because you can’t watch your shows without it and last but not least, your $104.73 cable package actually costs you like $142.36 because of taxes, fees, unicorn maintenance and yearly inflation of executive bonuses.” No worries. If you simply bundle your home internet, get some more hardware that will be obsolete three months after we install it and sign this contract that’s longer than your auto loan, we’ll give you a discount.” That’s cable and that’s just what we’ve come to expect from the companies that provide it. YouTube TV gave us hope that things could change. Hope that having our favorite content would be affordable, on-the-go and integrated into the Google products we already use on a daily basis. I guess two out of three ain’t bad because yes, YouTube TV may be a decent value but the 30% price increase and lack of personal customization sure make it feel a lot like my cable provider.
Where did YouTube TV go wrong? This is a tough question because Google has never been really clear on what the company’s goal was for the platform in the first place. Early on, YouTube TV touted the $35 price and vowed to minimize price increases while adding content and features. Now, three years later, we have streaming services from practically every company you can imagine and each brings its own benefits to the table. While none of them offer the exact experience of YouTube TV, at what point do we ditch the idea of network television, sports packages, and local news in favor of simply streaming our favorite content directly from the company that owns it for a fraction of the price of bundles. I know the criteria are different for each user but honestly, I could tell my kids tomorrow that Disney+ is now the only TV provider and they’d never give it a second thought. I understand that licensing content costs money and that price increases every year based on factors that I am mostly oblivious to but there has to be a better way. I think YouTube TV could realign itself and give users something that has been clamored for, by many, for years.
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A la Carte TV
Many have tried. All have failed. A la carte television packages have never taken off because networks, production studios, and cable service providers understand that subscription-based bundles are where the money’s at. If I license my channel/content to say Comcast, they bundle said channel/content into on of the company’s service tiers and now I can say that my content is “available in over 10 million homes” even if a single person never watches my late-night quilting tutorials. That “user base” attracts advertisers, sponsors, and other people with large sums of cash. A lot of big-wigs make massive bonuses, I have a ten-year contract for my content and the money machine keeps pumping out cash. This is one of the few reasons “packages” exist and also why we still have some grotesquely large and powerful cable providers. Allowing users to purchase per-channel packages would likely take a chunk out of the bottom line if not completely destroy some networks and would definitely knock the wind out of the cable providers that license the content.
Google should not and does not have to play this game. In 2019, Google brought in a cool $160 billion dollars in revenue give or take a few million. Of that, and estimated $112-$115 billion of that was ad revenue from the various platforms that the company delivers advertising. While the company is invested in a wide variety of projects, advertising is at the heart of a lot of it and rightfully so. Google knows advertising and YouTube TV can leverage that knowledge to create something unique and game-changing for the streaming universe. A report from earlier this year revealed that Google now has 2 million subscribers to YouTube TV. That’s not an overwhelming amount but it puts the streaming service on par with other well-established players such as Sling TV and Hulu. In perspective, Comcast has more than 21 million customers but remember, YouTube TV is only three years old. The fact that it has 2 million tells me that the people are hungry for a good alternative and are familiar enough with Google’s products to choose YouTube TV as that replacement.
As I was gathering my thoughts for this article, my initial take was that Google should offer two or three base tiers for subscribers and then, let them add on the extra channels they want on a per-channel basis. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that a true a la carte option would make the most sense if YouTube TV is to set itself apart and reshape how we purchase and consume content. Now, I understand that this would mean the loss of major licensing deals unless Google was willing to pony over the cash to fill the deficit created by removing the flat, $65 subscription fee. That could mean an initial loss for Google on the revenue front but let’s not forget, this company is an advertising giant. Even YouTube TV serves in-content ads on a limited basis. If Google could take what it knows about content ads and marketing and apply it to how YouTube TV “sells” itself to networks in the form of a revenue-sharing plan. This could eventually lead to a self-sustaining business model that allows subscribers to hand-pick their channel lineups while keeping content providers in the black. This model is exactly how YouTube works and that platform is providing Google and its content creators some great income streams.
Again, I understand that this type of shift would probably not be beneficial to Google in the short term but with more and more streaming services popping up, I think YouTube TV could gain a lot of traction and produce long-term stability if it would just apply what Google is already doing. If anything, YouTube TV could offer a very inexpensive or even free, ad-supported tier and then allow its users to add and remove single channels at will. For our home, we find that we watch roughly 12-15 channels regularly and that’s about it outside of Netflix and Disney+. If I could purchase those channels individually and create my own “package,” I’d take the leap to YouTube TV and never look back. Subscription-based streaming services have become the go-to for millions of users and even cable companies understand this truth. Google needs to look not where we are but where streaming is headed in 5-10 years and YouTube TV could become the TV service for the masses. That’s my two cents. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a brisket that needs tending to. Have a great weekend and be safe.
P.S. I did, in fact, cancel my YouTube TV subscription for now. I’m crossing my fingers that Google will make some much-needed changes and I can finally cut the cord for good. We’ll see.