On Tuesday PBS announced that over 100 of its member stations, covering 75% of U.S. households, have been activated for live streaming on YouTube TV. Previous to the launch PBS content was available across many devices through its own apps and the web. Incorporating the stations’ live feeds directly into YouTube TV means that users can seamlessly access them alongside other channels, use YouTube TV’s unlimited DVR feature to record PBS programs/watch later, etc.
It’s a smart move by both PBS and YouTube TV. PBS viewers skew older, and are therefore more likely to retain traditional pay-TV services, which have always carried PBS stations. But younger audiences are more likely to be cord-cutters or cord-nevers, relying instead on CTVs, mobile devices and OTT services. By not being a part of a virtual pay-TV operator, PBS’s exposure to critical younger audiences was being limited.
It’s worth noting that PBS and many of its member stations are pursuing a range of programming initiatives specifically targeting younger audiences on new platforms. One noteworthy example is Boston-based WGBH streaming an original, interactive show called “Escape Lab” on Twitch a few months ago. “Escape Lab” is part of WGBH’s exciting Emerging Platforms Initiative. (Note I have been involved with WGBH for many years and continue to serve as chair of its Emerging Media & Technologies committee.)
The integration of the PBS stations did expose one flaw in YouTube TV, which I’ve subscribed to for the past couple of years and am a big fan of. A while back I created a “Custom” lineup, moving 5-6 of my favorite channels to the top of my live list. Yesterday, knowing that WGBH had been added to YouTube TV, I opened the app on my Roku and iPhone and scrolled to the bottom, expecting to see the channel added there, which I would have then move up. When it wasn’t I assumed there was a delay.
Only later in the day, after checking multiple times, did it occur to me to toggle over to the YouTube TV Default lineup on both devices. On the iPhone there was a way to customize my Custom lineup and there I saw a list of unchecked channels that I could add to my Custom lineup (these included the Discovery channels that were activated months ago). In other words, when adding new channels, YouTube TV only adds them to the Default lineup, not to your Custom lineup.
So if you don’t otherwise find out about new channels becoming available and then take the step of adding them to your Custom lineup, they won’t appear (I found the same on Roku, except even weirder, new channels are not even shown as unchecked channels in the Custom view at all, unless I'm missing something).
Anyway, that’s all deep in the weeds. Back to the big picture, it’s great to see PBS finally being included in a virtual pay-TV service, and kudos to YouTube TV for recognizing the importance PBS has for millions of viewers.