Recently, speaking at a conference, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said YouTube TV has surpassed 5 million subscribers since the service launched in 2015.
This is quite the feat when you consider that 2 million of those subscribers have joined since mid-2020, a reverse trend from the industry that is constantly losing paid cable subscribers. There are no signs that Google plans to back away from the service: YouTube TV will see a user interface update this year.
For reference, the country’s top seven cable companies have 40.5 million subscribers combined. But just in Q1 of this year, 825,000 of those customers disconnected from their services.
In comparison, YouTube TV’s closest competitor, Hulu + Live TV, has 4.1 million subscribers, while Sling TV, owned by Dish Network, has 2.25 million subscribers. In all, these virtual multichannel video providers (vMVPD) represent over 20% of active pay TV subscriptions.
The streaming era ushered in a new trend: cord-cutting. Younger consumers were ditching pricy cable and satellite subscriptions for streaming platforms, like Netflix and Hulu.
But major sporting events and live news remained on broadcast and cable networks. Subscribing to cable or satellite service meant viewing was limited to your television, and viewers needed special equipment.
In 2017, Google was among the wave of technology companies looking to create a new experience for consumers when it came to watching linear television, following a wave of competitors, including Sony Playstation, Sling TV, and DIRECTV.
That year, Google launched its live streaming television platform, YouTube TV, which offered viewers an unlimited, cloud-based DVR and a price point lower than cable.
At the time, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the service was geared to younger consumers who don’t want to watch television in a traditional setting.
“They don’t want to watch it with their families sitting in the living room waiting for their favorite show to come on,” she said at the time.
However, the jury is still out on the long-term sustainability of vMVPDs, as sports leagues look to make games more accessible to cord-cutters.
While top vMVPDs represent roughly more than 12 million subscribers, 31.2 million people in 2020 were not paying for traditional, linear television services. The more cord-cutting, the less lucrative paychecks pay-TV providers can offer networks for must-see sporting events.
Instead, sports leagues are looking to create direct relationships with these new streaming platforms, forgoing a relationship with a network or cable provider altogether. The more content that can no longer be delivered over the top, the less value a pay TV subscription has to its subscriber.
Apple just signed a deal to carry every MLS game for a decade, while the company is also looking like a victor in signing upcoming NFL Sunday Ticket rights away from DIRECTV. Apple also restarted carriage discussions with the Big 10 after the conference added USC and UCLA.