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YouTube may launch an online TV service next year with ESPN, ABC, and CBS

YouTube may launch an online TV service next year with ESPN, ABC, and CBS

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Sean O'Kane

For a little while now, YouTube has been working on an online TV service for people who aren't interested in subscribing to cable — and now The Information reports that deals are starting to come together. While it sounds like nothing is finalized, ESPN, ABC, and CBS are "firmly expected" to be available through the service.

Other major broadcasters are expected to get involved, too. The Information reports, however, that YouTube may choose to pass on smaller networks, like HGTV, instead trying to replicate them with similar channels made up of YouTube videos.

Bloomberg previously reported that YouTube plans to call the service Unplugged and hopes to offer it for under $35 per month. The plan is to include a selection of key channels and to potentially sell small bundles of additional channels as add-ons. The Information says a launch is expected in six to nine months, so likely early next year.

YouTube video channels could help the service stand out

The big question as that launch approaches is how on Earth YouTube is going to get anyone interested. Online TV services are still young, and there's plenty of market for YouTube to go after. But there are some obvious factors in its way. For one, ESPN, ABC, and CBS are already available through other online TV services, like Sling. CBS offers a standalone subscription service, and it looks like ESPN is about to do the same.

Maybe more importantly, as the The Information also notes, is that YouTube's existing subscription service, YouTube Red, doesn't seem to be having much luck. Red is a very different service, primarily selling people on a small selection of original shows that they may well have no interest in, but it suggests that YouTube could struggle to sell yet another subscription.

In its favor may be the plan to assemble YouTube videos into makeshift channels. That could set YouTube's service apart in a big way, offering it an endless supply of additional and largely exclusive content. Plus, it might be able to turn YouTube into more of the lean-back/hands-off experience that a more traditional TV viewer — i.e. someone interested in subscription to CBS — is looking for.