Tuesday, June 29, 2021, 11:17 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Yesterday YouTube TV announced a new add-on feature called 4K Plus, which includes the ability to download recorded DVR programming to mobile devices for subsequent offline viewing. Diehard VideoNuze readers know that since October, 2012, when I wrote “TiVo Stream’s Downloading Feature is a Bona Fide Killer App” I have been an unabashed proponent of downloading/offline viewing.
As I wrote then, downloading offers multiple benefits to users, and to the services offering the feature. Though mobile connectivity is far better today than 9 years ago, there are still plenty of times when a cost-effective, high-quality Internet connection isn’t available (e.g. planes, trains, rural driving, etc.). At those moments, if you want to watch video, you’re out of luck. Downloading enables viewers to be untethered from the Internet and yet still have access to their DVR library.
Downloading isn’t just about providing access, it’s also about video quality. A locally-played video isn’t susceptible to buffering, dropouts and other delivery issues, so there’s a guaranteed level of quality. And downloaded video allows easy fast-forwarding through ads, rewinding to re-watch favorite moments, sports replays, etc.
In fact, downloading is a very popular activity. In the “TV in Your Pocket” study Colin Dixon and I did for downloading software platform Penthera (free download available) in late 2019, we cited research finding that 59% of users in the U.S. expected their streaming platform to offer downloading. And when downloading was available, 65% of users said they used it at least monthly. Numerous streaming services including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and others have fully embraced downloading as a front-and-center feature.
All of this is why YouTube TV’s new 4K Plus feature is a great step forward and a real competitive differentiator for YouTube TV vs. other virtual pay-TV services.
I’ve been a YouTube TV subscriber for several years and was easily able to find 4K Plus in “Settings” and upgrade (1 month free, first year is $9.99 per month, after it’s $19.99 per month). On my iPad, I navigated to my library and was able to download the latest episode of “60 Minutes” and fourth round coverage of this past weekend’s Travelers Championship PGA golf tournament, which included an epic 8 hole playoff (it’s worth noting separately that YouTube TV’s ability to automatically extend the recording time of sports events that run over their scheduled window, as the Travelers playoff did, is itself an awesome feature).
Once downloaded, I turned on Airplane mode on my iPad, then re-opened the YouTube TV app, clicked on downloads and found these programs. They played back perfectly, including all ads (I subsequently turned off Airplane mode and navigated to these programs and the app picked up exactly where I’d stopped viewing offline (pretty cool). Note YouTube TV says not all programs will be available for download, though so far I’m batting 1,000 with my first two choices.
I’ll admit I don’t quite understand how YouTube TV is going to execute the ad experience for downloads, a long-time obstacle for ad-supported services to adopt downloading. In my case I downloaded programming that just aired a couple days ago. But YouTube TV allows you to store recordings for 6 months (its unlimited DVR storage is another great feature). Am I going to see the same ads if I re-watch the Travelers in November which would include ads for Neutrogena sunscreen which is no longer seasonally relevant or the premier of “Big Brother” which occurred back in July?
Or, with the video file already downloaded, is YouTube TV going to somehow update the ads in downloaded programs to swap in spots that are relevant? Aside from how technically complicated this would be, would it also be a privacy issue? That’s the last think Alphabet needs. But if the ads aren’t replaced, the viewer experience will clearly be diminished and advertisers likely wouldn’t be excited about having stale creative still in market. And what about measurement and other important KPIs?
It’s a head-scratcher, and I’m eager to see how YouTube TV addresses all of this. In the meantime, with strictly my user hat on, I could care less. YouTube TV just untethered my cloud DVR recordings from the Internet, so I can watch wherever I find myself (which, post-Covid, will increasingly be out of my house and traveling like the old days). In this respect the timing of the 4K Plus release couldn’t be more perfect. As its name implies, 4K Plus also includes access to select programming in 4K, which sports fans, and especially Olympics fans, will appreciate.
YouTube TV just raised the bar for all virtual and traditional pay-TV operators. And by offering 4K Plus on a tier, they’re giving users a choice whether they value 4K/downloading and are willing to pay for it, or not. That’s the right approach. YouTube TV continues to impress. I wish I still paid $35 per month like in the not-so-distant past vs. the $65 per month I pay now and that YouTube TV hadn’t become so clogged up with channels I don’t care about. But nothing’s perfect. 4K Plus shows YouTube TV is at least moving in the right direction.
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