With 2021 now coming to an end, looking back clearly highlights that it was a year of disputes for YouTube TV. On the positive side, YouTube TV continues to be a popular option for those looking for a new live TV streaming service. Although still not confirmed, the understanding is that YouTube TV is serving live TV to more than four million subscribers in the United States, possibly even putting it ahead of Hulu Live TV.
In this sense, 2021 was a good year for YouTube TV. However, if measuring on the customer experience then it seems hard to ignore the fact that multiple disputes led to many periods of unknowing for subscribers over the past twelve months. The first real issue surfaced as early as April and the last major scare of the year came in December.
In reality, 2020 wasn’t exactly a great year for subscribers either. After only seeing the price increase by $10 per month in 2019, all YouTube TV subscribers encountered another price increase in 2020, resulting in a jump from $50 to $65 per month. In addition, and although YouTube TV typically adds (or announces) new channels when it raises the price, last year saw a number of channels being dropped as well. Most notably, the loss of a variety of channels owned by Sinclair, including multiple Fox RSNs and the Tennis Channel.
A year full of unknowns
What was certainly the longest dispute for YouTube TV in 2021 was Roku. The two did eventually agree a deal in December, but the issue first publicly surfaced in April. At the time, Roku warned that the app (or ‘channel’ in Roku speak) could be dropped from the platform. Not long after, that’s exactly what happened. Existing subscribers that already had the app installed on a Roku device retained access, but new installs weren’t possible. A situation that remained in effect up until the confirmation of a new deal in December. While the YouTube TV-Roku dispute continued throughout much of the year, it wasn’t the only one in 2021.
In September, an issue with NBCUniversal surfaced. As is always the case in these situations, YouTube TV did provide a customary warning that subscribers might lose access to channels owned by NBCU, including local NBC stations. The issue revolved around the inability to agree a new carriage deal for the channels. However, a last-minute extension was agreed and this additional time allowed the two companies to sort out the finer details before confirming a full agreement in October.
Coming to the end of the year, and only days after the Roku agreement was announced, along came a Disney dispute. Similar to the ones before, YouTube TV warned subscribers that, within days, they could lose Disney-owned channels, including ESPN and local ABC stations. With less than one week’s notice, the pressure was on for a deal to be done and one was not agreed in time. As a result, a bunch of channels were removed from the service and this forced YouTube TV to drop the price of a subscription down to $49.99 per month. Interestingly, the missing channels only remained gone for a very short period of time considering just one day later YouTube TV announced a deal had actually been done with Disney. This then resulted in the channels being re-added to the lineup again, albeit after much confusion.
Is trust in YouTube TV slowly eroding?
Disputes with Roku, NBCU, and Disney made for quite the eventful year for YouTube TV subscribers. In fairness to YouTube TV, it did try to be somewhat helpful each time a dispute surfaced and especially compared to other services that encounter similar issues. For example, following the Roku dispute, YouTube TV rolled out a workaround that allowed live TV content to be accessed via the main YouTube app – which was still available on the platform. Likewise, with both the NBC and Disney situations, YouTube offered to discount the base subscription by $15 per month for however long the affected channels remained missing.
While helpful, these gestures probably haven’t done much to reassure subscribers. Although it remains to be seen if YouTube TV will suffer any major decline in subscribers due to the various disputes in 2021, it is likely that trust has been affected to some degree. After the cost of the base subscription rose from $35 to $65 between 2018 and 2020, many existing subscribers were probably always just waiting for the next price increase to be announced. Now, as 2022 rolls through, that fear will likely be accompanied for some by a ‘what channels might subscribers lose next?’ concern.
Then again, with fresh deals having been agreed with Roku, NBCU and Disney, as well as the addition of missing ViacomCBS channels to the service in 2021, maybe 2022 will be more of a worry-free year for subscribers? That is, at least in terms of the channels. After all, the threat of a price increase is one that constantly looms over all consumers, whether they’re subscribed to YouTube TV or any other live TV service.