YouTube TV's web-based cable delivery service lets you watch live TV and recorded shows saved on its cloud-based DVR service.EXPAND
YouTube TV's web-based cable delivery service lets you watch live TV and recorded shows saved on its cloud-based DVR service.
screenshot by Danny Gallagher

YouTube TV Is Great, but it Can't Save Us From the Cable Cthulhu

Cable TV companies had a economic and geographic choke chains around the necks of some parts of the cable TV market in the '80s and early '90s. Only people who could afford satellite dishes, big enough to make their backyards look like mini-SETI projects, had a way out.

The wider availability of satellite access from companies like Dish Network and DirecTV provided some much-needed competition, but it didn't do much to bring down the cost of cable. The latest cannon fodder against cable comes from the internet.

Companies like Time Warner Cable (now the less scary sounding Spectrum) and Comcast are contending with internet-based broadcast companies, including streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, and cable providers that stream live TV on a web-based platform such as Sling, Sony's PlayStation Vue and the revamped DirecTV.

The latest attempt to topple the cable TV monarchy comes from perhaps the most powerful and widely viewed broadcaster of our age: the online video service YouTube. Google's YouTube TV launched in April in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco and has since expanded to 50 major-market cities, including Dallas, giving it the potential to reach half of America's TV-watching houses, according to TechCrunch.

Just like its web-based brethren, YouTube TV lets customers watch network and cable programs on multiple devices for a considerably smaller fee than traditional cable, with a shorter listing of available channels. However, YouTube TV announced some new innovations that increased its appeal, with features such as an online DVR with an unlimited amount of cloud-based storage space and exclusive internet-based programming that first launched through its digital TV channel, YouTube Red.

YouTube has delivered on just about every promise it made when it launched the monthly subscription service. It's expanded customers' ability to access the service on multiple devices, including mobile phones and tablets, streaming boxes like Apple TV and Roku, and game consoles like Microsoft's Xbox One. It's much easier to watch shows and movies on your big-screen TV in the living room, rather than huddling around a desktop computer or laptop in your office.

YouTube TV also delivers a crisp and fast TV broadcast that's only as good as your internet connection (which is another broadcasting utility problem we need to tackle, but let's not open that wound) and the resolution of the screen. The shows look and sound just as good whether you're watching them live or catching up on a rerun in your recordings library.

The unlimited DVR storage space is YouTube TV's biggest selling point. DVRs like the slowly dying TiVo are always running out of space, forcing you to delete shows or movies that you never got around to watching. YouTube TV solves that problem by offering limitless storage capacity, and you subscribe to your favorite shows the same way that you subscribe to your favorite YouTube channel.

These are the only channels you'll get if you subscribe to YouTube TV. Notice anything missing?
These are the only channels you'll get if you subscribe to YouTube TV. Notice anything missing?
screenshot by Danny Gallagher

The coolest part is that when you start recording in the middle of a season, you'll sometimes get access to the entire season or even the entire run of the show. Any TV service that offers access to every episode of The Simpsons without having to fumble with DVDs deserves at least a free trial run.

Of course, the downside is big — it's what cable companies like Spectrum and Comcast have been able to dangle over our heads when we try to quit. Thanks to ownership and licensing issues, traditional cable companies make you purchase channels you never watch in big, bulky packages instead of purchasing just what you know you're going to use. So the price for YouTube TV may be considerably lower and more appealing if you only watch sports, the news, network shows that aren't on The CW and a few programs on channels like USA and SyFy and even pay networks like Showtime. However, YouTube TV only offers 40-plus channels, depending on your coverage area and some heavy TV hitters aren't on the list, including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim and TBS.

YouTube TV's online service offers a good alternative to cable if you're tired of paying a high price to watch your favorite network shows or put some Jeopardy! reruns on in the background to ignore while you're doing something else. However, if you're used to cable TV the old-fashioned way, you'll find yourself missing a lot of programs you can't watch.

YouTube TV works as a discount cable service, but it just isn't beefy enough to start the price war with traditional cable TV deliverers.

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