YouTube TV: Everything you need to know about the TV streaming service

Update: YouTube TV is expanding. Again. This time the service is coming to a whopping 34 new metropolitan areas, including New Orleans, Green Bay, San Diego and San Antonio. That brings the total number of markets to a record-high 83.

YouTube TV is hoping to re-shape the cord-cutting movement - and it has good reason to believe that can happen. After all, YouTube was the biggest name in video streaming long before Hulu, Netflix and Amazon ever thought to get into the video-on-demand game. 

The service is essentially a cable replacement, offering live TV to your phone, tablet and television without a costly cable subscription and contract.

It's a deal that feels too good to be true for those of us bombarded by cable box rental fees, hidden charges and ever-higher cable bills. And while it has some negatives out there - like being available in just 83 cities across the US - it could one day put cable companies in their place.

How to watch YouTube TV

YouTube TV is compatible with iOS and Android phones and tablets, meaning you can stream app video content to your television, too.

That makes both the Chromecast and Apple TV compatible by extension, and Google confirmed in September that it's working on both an Android TV and Roku app for YouTube TV. 

Now, it's also worth pointing out that to access YouTube TV, not only are you going to need a subscription to the service but also an internet service plan from one of your local ISPs (for most folks, that's AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon).

This is something most folks pay for already and therefore hasn't been figured into the cost of YouTube TV - but it's worth noting nonetheless. 

Why YouTube TV is new, but important

Why is YouTube TV going to be big? Well, while PlayStation Vue and Sling TV had to carve out a new audience for their products, YouTube TV already has one – one billion users that live in 88 countries and speak 76 different languages. 

Sure, both Sony and DISH are large corporations, but do they have one billion people using their products to stream videos every year? Not likely.

OK, so YouTube TV is going to be big, you get that. But what exactly is YouTube TV and why should you care? Let’s talk about it. 

What is YouTube TV? 

YouTube TV is a US-exclusive live TV streaming service – think Netflix but instead of on-demand TV shows and movies you’ll see cable channels like ABC, NBC, FOX, ESPN and Disney among many, many more. It’s like cable in the sense that everything is divided by channel and, yes, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for it, but the difference here is that you’ll be able to take shows whenever and wherever you go. 

Well, sort of. Because YouTube TV has mainstream local stations (NBC, ABC, FOX, etc...), it initially launched in a few cities and then expanded out into other regions – similar to how PlayStation Vue started. 

Loading up the service for the first time, we were recommended shows like Archer, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons and many more. We easily found enough content to keep us entertained for the time-being, plus will have plenty to watch next time we log-on thanks to YouTube TV's stellar Cloud DVR. 

Cloud DVR, if you've never heard that term before, allows you to record your favorite shows as they air and save them, well, to the cloud so that you can watch them later. It’s TiVo, but everything’s online. YouTube TV promises unlimited storage for shows for up to nine months – a serious advantage over the competition which usually only offer 28 days of storage.

YouTube TV on every device? We hope so.

Also, unlike Sling TV which wants you to buy a more expensive package to allow more than one user to watch TV at a time, YouTube says that its service will allow up to six people in the family to access the service and will allow up to three of them tune into the service simultaneously on the same account – a big advantage when you’re looking to replace cable and you have a big family.

The other thing we know about YouTube TV is its price: $35 a month. For comparison, that’s slightly more expensive than Sling TV’s basic $20-per-month package and a few dollars less than PlayStation Vue’s basic $39 package that includes local stations like CBS, NBC, etc…

But, to sweeten the deal, pay for your first month of service and you'll get a brand-new Chromecast for free.

Cut to the chase

  • What is YouTube TV? A live TV streaming service like Sling TV
  • When is it coming out? It's available right now!
  • How much will it cost? $35 per month, unless you get an add-on package
  • Where can you watch it? Anywhere in the 83 US markets where it's available

What channels are included?

First off, all the mainstream local channels are on-board: NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX. That means every NFL game up to and including the Super Bowl, are yours to watch every Sunday. AMC has also signed on, which means you'll still be able to get your Walking Dead fix on Sundays.

Beyond the local stuff, you’ve got all the channels that fall under the umbrella of those companies – i.e. ESPN, CSN, FOX Sports, USA, FX, Disney, E!, Bravo, SyFy, FXX, National Geographic, MSNBC, FOX News, CNBC and more. 

Here's the complete picture of every channel so far.

(Image: © YouTube)

On top of all those channels shown above, you’ll also get access to YouTube’s own network of shows, YouTube Red Originals. Shows on this ‘network’ (a term we use very lightly here) include Scare PewDiePie and exclusive films that you’ve probably never heard of. This really isn’t a huge draw for most people, but hey, maybe the money that comes in from YouTube TV can be used to crank up the quality of this content to near-Netflix levels.

Now, like Amazon Video, you can actually tack on additional premium stations for an extra fee. Right now the list of premium offerings include FOX Soccer Plus and Showtime, which cost around $10 extra per month. 

OK, so who’s missing so far? Well, AMC, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, MTV and TNT aren’t there, which is a bit of a bummer, and there aren’t as many channels for kids on YouTube TV as there are on Sling TV – a potential problem for parents. 

HBO hasn’t signed up for the service yet either, which is strange considering that it peddles its wares on Amazon Video, but then again you can always subscribe to HBO Now if you really need your Game of Thrones on the go. 

How is it different than YouTube Red?

This can be sort of confusing, so listen up. YouTube Red is an ad-free version of YouTube that has a few fun features like allowing you to keep a video playing even when your phone is turned off. A subscription to YouTube Red also gives you access to the YouTube Red Originals channel that we talked about earlier. 

What YouTube Red won't allow you to do is watch live TV or cable TV content. For that you'll need YouTube TV. 

YouTube TV, like YouTube Red, will start as a US-only service and then might possibly expand out into other territories. YouTube wants to roll its Red service out to the UK sometime in 2017, but it's facing problems doing so. It's more than likely YouTube TV would follow in that path, unfortunately. 

Is there some crossover potential here between these two services? Absolutely. Maybe a subscription to YouTube TV also nets you a free subscription to Red. But we'll just have to wait to find out more from YouTube if that's the case. 

Is YouTube TV a better deal than cable? 

That’s a good question. The answer here is ‘maybe’. Depending on how your cable service provider packages its internet and cable bundles. If you’re already paying for internet service, you can tack on an extra $30 for YouTube TV and maybe a $10-per-month subscription to Netflix and have just as much content as you’d have from a cable TV service that usually run $60-70 per month. 

That being said, if you’re paying for one of those bundles that allows you to package cable, internet and phone service together for a lower price, YouTube TV might not come out to be any less. 

You're still going to need cable (or HBO Now) for your Game of Thrones fix

The benefits of going for a streaming service over a cable service are the ability to watch shows wherever you go, the potential to use Cloud DVR to save shows for later and the no-obligations contract that allows you to cancel your account without a termination fee. On top of everything else, you don’t need to rent a cable box from companies like Comcast, Spectrum or AT&T, because the streaming service comes in through whatever device you’re using. 

In short, YouTube TV can offer as many channels as basic cable does, without the need for a cable box and 12-month contract, which is why we consider it a win. It does all that and offers Cloud DVR, is available a plethora of apps for devices like Roku, Apple TV and the various game consoles and does video-on-demand, making it one of the best streaming services on the planet. 

So, when can you watch it? Right now. Just head over to tv.youtube.com to start your free trial.