No, YouTube.TV isn't going to replace broadcast television. It's New Coke

Elliott Haworth
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No one over the age of 15 watches PewDiePie. (Source: Getty)

I recently learned that in Scottish dialect the word “tube” is quite the insult – an idiot – and that when YouTube was first launched, many got the wrong end of the stick.

“It’s on you tube!” could quite easily be interpreted as an invitation to fight.

12 years later and as far as established media goes, “YouTube” rolls off the tongue in the same breath as “newspaper,” “radio,” or “television”. But on that last point, it will always be a complement to, not a replacement for, our beloved box.

News last week that the site is now racking up a staggering billion hours of views every day sent columnists into a flurry: Americans watch 1.25 billion hours of TV a day, so clearly, they said, YouTube was ringing the death knell for traditional broadcast media.

Of course this is a fallacy. We must remind our Stateside cousins that there is, unbelievably, a whole world outside of America, and the YouTube figures are global.

Video killed the TV star?

We’re watching more content than ever – YouTube can be proud of its success in that regard. But in the same week, not coincidentally I’m sure, it announced the launch of its 40 channel paid subscription TV bundle. The likes of ABC, Fox, and ESPN are on board – described modestly as the “future of TV consumption”.

But it’s not the future, it’s a glorified Freeview box you can put in your pocket. It livestreams broadcast TV channels, upon which YouTube has no influence over advertising. It’s an ambitious attempt to provide alternative income to its ad-funded model in the age of ad-blockers. But with such a limited scope of programming, and the Pay TV penetration rate still at 82 per cent in the States, why would consumers go elsewhere?

The possibility of accessing broadcast on the go is novel, but have no doubt, like Instagram to Snapchat, cable networks will wise up and offer a near identical service as part of their 9,000 channel package deals.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Parking its tanks on the lawn of broadcast TV is irritating, not a threat. YouTube is already good at what it does, and will continue to be so. But its success has been driven by offering a unique product, not emulating an old one. It’s the paragon of short form, user generated content, and stuff you can’t find elsewhere. TV is everything YouTube is not: network-exclusive, long form films with exuberant budgets and household names. No one over the age of 15 watches PewDiePie.

The focus should be on improving its current product. While trying new things is paramount to the growth of any business, YouTube already has enough holes to patch. YouTube Red, where users can pay to use the site ad-free and access original on-demand content, has been, mostly, a flop. People won’t pay for what they can already get for free, and the content is feeble.

Entering a crowded and evolving space rarely pays off. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Now TV – to name a few – are already light years ahead with cheaper subscription models offering original quality programming. YouTube failed to challenge these relatively young on-demand services, which makes taking on established television networks seem all the more futile.

Advertisers (for the foreseeable future) will always prefer traditional television because it’s tried, tested, and offers control. YouTube is the Wild West by comparison. Why run the risk of having your ad dumped next to an Isis recruitment video by dodgy programmatic when it can appear during Strictly?

YouTube is not replacing television any time soon. This is going to be New Coke for them, much like Google Glass, Google Plus and every other failed product. It’s too late in the game to start trying to take on the giants. To suggest otherwise, you’d have to be pure tube.

Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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