YouTube TV, Google’s internet TV subscription service, launches today. Ben Popper’s got a big look at the app for you, covering how it works and what channels you get. It sounds promising, and unlimited DVR powers (plus having those recordings saved for up to nine months) is awesome.
But I’m a nerd who occasionally spends time reading through FAQs and YouTube’s help pages to find the stuff that’s not include in flashy advertising. What I’ve found so far might be helpful in your decision on whether or not to give YouTube TV a (free) try.
Most people can’t get it. Womp womp.
At launch, YouTube TV is starting fairly small. It’s currently available in:
- Los Angeles
- New York City and surrounding suburbs
- San Francisco Bay Area
Live TV from the major broadcasters (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) is a major part of YouTube TV, and arranging deals takes time and can be tricky in cities where those channels are run by affiliates. YouTube has said it’s working to quickly expand availability of YouTube TV.
It’s $35 per month, but signing up from an iPhone or iPad makes the monthly bill more expensive.
Unless you’re really a fan of having the iTunes Store handle all your subscription billing, don’t sign up for YouTube TV from an iOS device. The monthly price jumps to $39.99 (plus taxes and fees) if you do. Normally — if you sign up from Android or the web — it’s $35 plus taxes and fees.
There’s a free 30-day trial.
That’s a nice long time to try out the service and see if it does everything you want from it. Just know that, as usual, signing up for the trial requires a credit/debit card and will result in a small, temporary authorization on that card.
Don’t sign up from someplace where you don’t live.
Location is a critical factor with YouTube TV. It determines whether you’re eligible to sign up for the service to begin with, and also which local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC feeds you see. So don’t rush to activate that free trial if you’re traveling. YouTube says “we recommend waiting to sign up until you return home.”
You can watch on three devices at the same time.
That’s pretty decent among the pack of these internet TV services. Sling TV ranges anywhere from one to four concurrent streams depending on package, DirecTV Now limits you to two, and PlayStation Vue leads everyone with five streams at once.
There’s no Roku or Apple TV app yet. Also, YouTube would prefer that you don’t try to watch live TV with the old, original Chromecast.
YouTube has said that support for other platforms will arrive later this year. For now, you’ll have to use Chromecast (or own a Android TV) to stream YouTube TV on your living room screen. FYI: YouTube cautions that the aging, first-generation Chromecast hardware might “experience a higher rate of errors” than more recent models.
Blackouts are still a headache, especially for sports fans — but also randomly.
YouTube TV faces the same inconvenient restrictions on where and how you can watch things — particularly sports — as its competitors. And the company is very quick to direct the blame towards its programming partners and networks:
If you're trying to watch certain programs, like sports events, you may see a viewing restriction known as a "blackout." Blackouts are set by our content partners, like sports leagues or our network partners. They vary based on your current and/or home area, the content you're trying to watch, what platform or device you’re watching on, and possibly other restrictions made by our partners. Affected programs will be unavailable in YouTube TV. If a blackout is in effect in your location, we will do our best to let you know.
This doesn’t always just apply to sportsball, though. Remember when no one could stream the Golden Globes with Sling TV or PS Vue or DirecTV Now? So does YouTube, and it can’t promise that similar, random blackouts are out of the question here either:
You may occasionally see a total blackout of some programs on broadcast networks.
This happens because YouTube TV is an internet-based service, and digital streaming rights for certain programs are different than traditional TV rights. If a blacked out program appears in your Library, Home, or Live tabs, you'll see an icon alerting you that the program is currently unavailable.
Some content can’t be watched on phones, and some content can’t be casted to the TV screen
This heads up mostly applies to Verizon’s long-running exclusive lockdown on mobile NFL viewing. You won’t be able to watch football on your smartphone, but a YouTube spokesperson told me that you can cast games to the TV screen as a workaround. You can also watch from larger-screened devices like an iPad, Android tablet, or PC without issue.
I’m less clear on where this “certain programs may not always be available through casting” restriction applies with regards to YouTube TV’s launch lineup of channels. When asked for an example, a YouTube spokesperson told me that as of now, everything can be casted.
But if you want an example of how granular broadcasters can get, here’s one: NBC initially couldn’t be streamed on TV set-top boxes with AT&T’s DirecTV Now service, a competitor to YouTube TV. That’s since been resolved, but these companies can be finicky.
You’ll probably lose live access to ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC when traveling.
YouTube TV is launching in a fairly small list of cities, and if you’re trying to watch from outside those locations, you’ll be unable to stream the big four broadcast networks live. You will be able to watch the cable networks that are part of YouTube TV without a problem. As for sports, YouTube says that “sports programming can vary widely based on location and content rights.” Good luck, friend.
Also, it won’t work at all internationally. YouTube TV is a US-only service for now. Overseas, you’ll have to stick with regular old YouTube.
Paying for YouTube TV doesn’t remove ads from everyday YouTube.
Okay so, YouTube TV includes YouTube Red’s content and original shows, but it doesn’t remove ads from regular YouTube videos. To do that, you’ve still got to pay $9.99/month for YouTube Red. Remember: YouTube Red includes a subscription to Google Play Music where the on-demand music app is available. Also, I feel like this is common sense, but paying for YouTube Red doesn’t mean you’ll magically avoid commercials when watching live TV.
That’s it for now. I’ll update this if I discover any other potential gotchas or frustrations with YouTube TV.