A couple of weeks ago at the Google I/O conference, YouTube provided a tantalizing glimpse of a new UI called "Leanback" which optimizes YouTube for viewing on TV.
With Leanback, YouTube videos can be navigated and consumed in more of a TV-like manner - more passively and for longer durations. Converting YouTube - the king of short online video clips - to a more conventional TV experience might seem like a surprising ambition for Google, but in the context of Google TV, it's actually quite strategic. Not only should it help Google TV gain acceptance, it could also position YouTube to be the first big beneficiary of Google TV.
Way back in March, 2008, in "YouTube: Over-the-Top's Best Friend," I argued that providing full, open Internet experiences was the best path for new OTT devices to succeed, and that YouTube would be their perfect partner. YouTube is so valuable for OTT devices like Google TV and others because it dominates the online video world, accounting for 40% of all video views every month for the past 2 years. For many users it is the only online video brand they know and by far the most heavily used.
With the development of Leanback, YouTube has correctly recognized that to succeed on the big screen its usability needs to be modified. Whereas in online users happily browse around from one short clip to the next, search vigorously for exactly the clip they want, or click on videos embedded in others' sites, when it comes to TV, video needs to be easier to navigate and better packaged for longer viewing. While short, highly related, back-to-back clips can work well on TV, YouTube's recent emphasis on premium-quality programs is poised to become more important than ever. Google TV OEMs will need tangible proof points that YouTube on TV is a breakthrough experience (and therefore a Google TV purchase catalyst).
Having Google TV as a prime outlet for Leanback gives YouTube new momentum for acquiring long-form premium content from providers who have hesitated due to limited to computer-only viewing. Of course YouTube will still need to address plenty of other items in these content negotiations, but having a bona fide story for on-TV viewing is a key step forward. Google's advertising capabilities and all of YouTube's traditional (and future) interactivity are icing on the cake. And with Hulu systematically blocking all attempts to be viewed on the TV, YouTube is further advantaged when talking to content brands seeking multi-platform video distribution.
There are still plenty of ifs, but YouTube Leanback and Google TV could be a formidable pairing, giving a new boost to YouTube's quest to gain more premium content. With the proper UI, YouTube could well morph itself from the most popular online destination for video viewing to the most popular new "TV" destination as well. That in turn could scramble how consumers perceive the value of their monthly pay-TV subscriptions. This is the "Trojan Horse" concern about Google TV - that somewhere down the road things like YouTube Leanback could lead to cord-shaving or cutting.
VideoNuze is the authoritative online source for original analysis and news aggregation focused on the burgeoning online video industry. Founded in 2007 by Will Richmond, a 20-year veteran of the broadband, cable TV, content and technology industries, VideoNuze is read by executive-level decision-makers who need to get beyond the standard headlines and achieve a deep understanding of online video’s disruptive impact.