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How YouTube TV Works And What To Expect

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YouTube TV is a very popular live TV streaming service and one that’s only likely to continue to appeal to more individuals and households as time goes on. For those switching to YouTube TV from another service that streams live TV, what’s on offer and how it works will likely be familiar enough. However, for those thinking of ‘cutting the cord’ for the first time, here’s what you need to know before deciding if YouTube TV is the right service for you.

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In spite of the rise of streaming services, there are still many, many households in the United States getting their live TV channels from a cable or satellite company. In the most basic sense, YouTube TV is no different to those services considering it also provides homes with access to a variety of live TV channels. However, a fundamental difference is in the commitment. While traditional TV packages might want a long-term commitment, or offer incentives for signing up for one, two or more years, live TV streaming services typically operate on a month-to-month basis. If you don’t like the service, the channel lineup, or the price, subscribers can just cancel, continue watching until the end of their current monthly billing cycle, and then sign up with another service.

Another fundamental difference is in the method of delivery, as YouTube TV is a service that’s accessed over an internet connection, the internet itself is one of the first and main aspects to consider before signing up. Similar to Netflix, HBO Max and Hulu, consumers will want to make sure they have a reliable internet connection and are not limited in certain respects, like a monthly data allowance. This method of delivery does also mean consumers will need to consider other details, including the device(s) they intend to use to watch YouTube TV.

Cost, device support and getting started

One of the benefits of a service like YouTube TV is that specific hardware is not generally needed. Instead, subscribers are able to watch their favorite live TV channels on a variety of different devices, including smart TVs, streaming players, laptops, PCs, and even mobile devices like smartphones. However, not all streaming services, including YouTube TV, support all devices and models. Therefore, consumers will want to make sure they check if the devices they have access to are supported by YouTube TV before signing up. Otherwise, they may need to consider picking up a new streaming player to use, or a different live TV streaming service.

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Besides access to a compatible device and an internet connection, not much else is needed to actually start streaming YouTube TV. That is, other than a live TV subscription. The standard YouTube TV plan costs $65 per month, although this is just the starting price. YouTube TV offers a variety of premium networks and channel add-ons that can be added to the base plan. As examples, a subscriber can add HBO Max or a Sports Plus add-on to their TV package. Unlike HBO Max, which is just one service, the Sports Plus add-on increases the number of sports-related channels and content the subscriber has access to. As these are additional services, they each add to the overall price. If enough add-ons and premium networks are added, then consumers may find they are paying substantially higher than the advertised $65 per month price, and probably higher than they were originally paying for cable.

The good news is that this approach allows consumers to choose exactly how much live TV they want and at what price. For those happy enough with the base channel lineup, they can simply sign up through the YouTube TV website and start watching. Likewise, those wanting a richer live TV package can spend the extra time to customize their package by padding it out with more channels and features. It is worth remembering that consumers are only committing to the current month. In other words, consumers can just as easily manage their account and make any changes at any time. This includes upgrading or downgrading their custom live TV package before the next monthly payment is due.

In addition to access to live TV channels, subscribers are also able to watch a variety of on-demand content from the same networks included with a subscription. Furthermore, YouTube TV also comes with its own DVR for recording live TV programming. Although this is a cloud DVR, there are still limitations on how many hours are available to record with, and even how long the recordings remain stored for before they are automatically deleted.

Issues and what to be aware of

Although YouTube TV comes with many selling points, it is not a perfect service. For starters, there is the issue of channels. If coming over from a traditional cable package, some may find the selection of channels is more limited. Generally speaking, many of the most popular channels and networks are available, but consumers will still want to make sure their favorite channels are included in the lineup first. If they are not, then it might be worth checking out one of the competing services to see if any of their channel lineups better match the needs of the individual subscriber or household. Not all live TV streaming services offer the same channels, and the exact selection is often why one subscriber chooses a particular service over another.

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Even if YouTube TV looks great to begin with, issues can develop later on. Live TV streaming services have routinely run into carriage issues with networks over the years, and some of these disputes have resulted in channels being completely removed from a service. These situations almost never result in a decrease in price and, over enough time, the channel lineup can start to look very different to what a consumer might have originally signed up to. Again, this is not an issue that’s specific to YouTube TV but, at the same time, it is not one that the service is exempt from either. Another related issue is the price.

The cost of pretty much all of the major live TV streaming subscriptions has increased in price over the years and are now far more expensive than they once were. To give you an example, YouTube TV was originally just $35 per month. Since its launch, however, the price has slowly creeped up to $65 per month and it might not stop there. While it is beneficial that consumers are not locked-in to a lengthy contract, the flip side is that services like YouTube TV don’t have to honor any existing price. Basically, consumers should be aware that both the channels and the price could change over time, and with very little notice.

In addition to the general limitation on devices, there are some other device-related limitations that consumers should be aware of. The first is that YouTube TV does limit where a device can access the service. This home area policy is an important one to understand and especially if planning to use the service in more than one home/location at a time. Speaking of which, YouTube TV also limits how many devices can access the service at the same time. This is not only in terms of accessing in different locations, but also when watching at home. As a result, this will be an important aspect to take into consideration for families or busy households where there’s a higher change of multiple people watching live TV at the same time in different rooms.

How YouTube TV works summary

YouTube TV is a streaming service just like Netflix, HBO Max and Hulu, although it streams live TV channels instead, making it a good alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV packages. However, consumers will want to make sure that they have a reliable enough internet connection as well as a smart TV or streaming player, that’s compatible with the service. A Google account is also required to sign up to YouTube TV.

Once signed up, subscribers will gain access to a specific selection of live TV channels and this list can be further customized through add-ons, albeit at an increase in the monthly cost. As this is a streaming service, subscribers are able to quickly and easily make changes to their plan at a moment’s notice, including canceling. YouTube TV charges customers each month and in advance. As a result, even if canceling, subscribers will retain access to their live TV channels, on-demand videos, and recorded content for the remainder of their billing (not calendar) month.

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John Finn

By John Finn

John started Streaming Better to help consumers navigate the live TV streaming and subscription service landscape. John has been writing about technology and TV-related services and devices since 2014 and believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingbetter.com or on Twitter

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