Not content to dominate online video viewing, yesterday YouTube unveiled new initiatives for viewing on both TVs and mobile devices. Taken together they demonstrate how aggressive YouTube plans to be in the 3-screen viewership era.
First up, YouTube introduced the beta version of "Leanback," the new 10-foot experience that it introduced at the recent I/O conference. With Leanback, you only need to use the 4 arrow keys and Enter key on your keyboard to navigate the YouTube experience. Video plays in full-screen mode and in automatically in HD when available.
There are different options for what content Leanback delivers: if you have set up subscriptions, it will give you a feed of those videos; in addition, if you've connected your YouTube account to your Facebook account you'll also get a feed of videos your friends are watching/sharing; alternatively, if you've done neither YouTube will simply give you the most popular comedy, entertainment, news, etc. You can also easily search and browse.
I gave Leanback a whirl and was impressed. Videos loaded quickly and played beautifully. Since there are tons and tons of videos, the idea of serendipitous discovery is taken to a whole new level. It may seem odd in this era of hyper-interactivity, but it is easy to envision Leanback being a couch potato's nirvana: just fire up Leanback and sit back and have all the day's most interesting videos begin unspooling. As I wrote in early June, I continue to believe Leanback is a whole new "channel" experience and will give Google TV, when it launches, a huge tailwind.
Meanwhile, YouTube also rolled out a newly upgraded experience for mobile phones yesterday. The new site at m.youtube.com promises to be faster and also more mobile-friendly, with larger buttons and additional features included from the web site. The effort builds on the mobile site YouTube has offered for several years. YouTube also revealed that playbacks grew by 160% in 2009 and are now up to an astounding 100 million per day. More interestingly, YouTube appears to be trying to migrate users away from the YouTube mobile app which Apple has offered on the iPhone for a while. YouTube is promising web site updates will be followed quickly on the new mobile app, "unlike native apps which are not updated as frequently."
With the new Leanback and mobile initiatives YouTube is continuing to evolve from its roots as just a user generated content web site. YouTube appears to be firing on all cylinders: hitting a record 14.6 billion views in May, landing big-time advertisers like VISA/Toy Story 3 and Xbox's Kinnect and adding popular premium content like World Wrestling Entertainment and a new project produced by Ridley Scott. YouTube's biggest day is still ahead of it, when it will no doubt take center stage in the high-profile launch of Google TV later this year.
I continue to think that YouTube was a superb acquisition for Google. The deal looks more strategic by the day, especially in light of Google's intensifying battle with Apple.
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