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

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.

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.


I’m noticing a disturbing trend of broadcast networks positioning to offer for a subscription fee, what is currently offered for free over the air. CBS has been advertising an offering a free trial of their service like crazy. Looks like they’re wanting to become direct to consumer cable channels.

Anyway, offering "unplugged" for any price, let alone $35(!) a month, is like offering steak to a vegetarian but instead of buying it from the butcher shop, the steak is now being offered at the farmers market.

Don’t get me wrong, competition is good and badly needed, but cord cutters such as myself aren’t going to go for it.

What OTA antenna do you use for on the go?

Not everyone is sitting on their couch in front of a TV.

When Im on the go, I don’t watch tv.
Granted, I realize some people have long commutes to work or school on a bus or train but I don’t. And if I’m that far away from a tv, chances are I won’t have internet either.
Don’t get me wrong, we need more competition, its just silly to think that offering expensive cable packages of bundled channels is going to lure back cord cutters.
I think most cord cutters would say, if anything, they would prefer al la carte channel subscription and preferably without the middle man. What HBO is doing for example. Oh and no long term commitments. Pay as you go.
I get why the studios and networks don’t want to do that but offering more of the same is not going to win me over.

If they offer it up on their web client in conjunction with their native apps, I would easily forfeit any other service for this.

under $35 per month

You bet your bottom it better be under $35/month.

Yeah, maybe it will be $29.99/mo with two year contract and qualifying credit which is in line with the current satellite and ATaT offerings.

Sling TV at base is $20/mo, & Playstation Vue is $39.99/mo base, both without contract or qualifying credit on a month to month basis. YouTube has to atleast try to match SlingTV, especially if its forgoing channels like HGTV, which both Sling TV and Playstation Vue offer in their basic packages.

LOL… I’ll stick with Sling and my T-mobile discount.

There’s a T-Mobile discount for sling?

Gentleman and a scholar. That’s what you are.

How many of those channels are free anyway?

Of all of these, the only one that has been antagonistic to the rise of IPTV and the move away from traditional TV watching has been The CW. To me, it seems like their contract with Netflix pretty much blocks them from joining Sing, Playstation Vue, or Google’s and Apple’s rumored services, which is sadly very short sighted on their part.

I have an antenna, but I’m a PS Vue subscriber that takes heady advantage of the service’s DVR and catchup features. Now that CW shows are off Hulu I’m likely never going to keep up with the series I did watch on that network, which is more their loss than mine.

If Youtube tries to do this without Youtube Red subscribers getting it then i will be cancelling my Youtube red sub, whats the point if they will then just put out another service and keep stuff off youtube red?

Either they believe in Red or they can just F off. These companies need to stop with the splintering where you can watch things or reduce what they are asking.

They may not believe in red but they sure as hell believe in green.
Lots and lots of green.

So sick of this crap, didn’t these guys get behind Hulu? CBS didn’t but the rest did and now that they realize they can’t beat Netflix they are what going to start another one?

Netflix showed them how to do it right and they still have not learned.

Because this is for live television, not yesterday’s television.

It’s one thing to look at Netflix with jealous eyes and wish you’d thought of it first. Entirely different to actually be able to pull it off, and at this point "pulling it off" means successfully coexisting with Netflix, not supplanting them, because they are far too far ahead for that to be a realistic option.

What about YouTube Red, are they writing that off now?

The way I see it, "TV" will break up into two different businesses. One will be global, subscription based, drama+comedy+documentaries, the kind of content that is in demand pretty much everywhere and can be watched anytime, so ads won’t work well. It will be aimed at anyone with a credit card and good enough internet.

The other will be regional, ad-based (and in many cases also subscription based), sports+news+game shows, the kind of content that doesn’t really globalize easily (think about the different sports that people like everywhere, and the teams they follow, which are usually tied to geography). This is the kind of content that expires fast, so you can get people to watch the ads. This basket will also be filled by content created especially to show ads to the under-35 crowd, basically cheaply-made, short stunt-type videos.

Netflix, Amazon and HBO are already in the first category. Sling, Bittorrent’s attempt at legitimacy, and any service that is going after sports will be in the second category. YouTube needs to decide where they fit and go for it.

$35/mo? That’s nearly the price of entry level cable subscriptions. They better include all the channels Sling offers and have no ad breaks whatsoever.

You can’t have no ad breaks because its part of the channel stream. They need to do what PS Vue did and offer a different experience of Cable since they’re competing head to head with it. PS Vue does the following, for example:

- Unlimited cloud DVR w/ 28 day storage
- Navigation built around shows rather than channels
- Catchup with any show currently airing
- Seamless experience between live & on demand content
- Prepaid month to month service w/ no contracts

So, YouTube doesn’t have to be all that different from cable, it just has to find a niche to be better in, and I personally think that they’d be better off aping Playstation Vue.

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