YouTube TV: Everything you need to know about the service

YouTube TV
Image Credit: YouTube

YouTube TV is available now to everyone in the United States, from Los Angeles to New York City, and it's one of the TV streaming services that have brought an absolute reckoning for mainstream cable providers – you know, those guys who hose us with equipment rental fees and HD service when those things should just be free of charge. 

For far too long, cable contracts have locked us in to horribly long agreements that bundle things we don't use (cough, home phones) and channels we don't watch, all so they can maintain their bottom line.

Well, bad news cable companies: Those days are over.

YouTube TV is a cable replacement, full stop, offering live TV to your phone, tablet and streaming device without a costly cable subscription and contract.

  • Want something cheaper? Sling TV starts at just $25 per month
  • Unsure if YouTube TV is the streaming service for you? Compare it with the rest on our best TV streaming services guide

It's a deal that feels too good to be true for those of us and while it has some problems of its own, it could one day put cable companies out of business.

While cable-cutters are definitely on YouTube's radar, it's the so-called cord-nevers out there - those of us who have never paid for cable, and likely never will - that YouTube TV really speaks to. It's all the channels we've come to expect from our parent's house, but at a price we can actually afford.

Are you ready to cancel cable once and for all? Are you ready for dozens of channels streaming live wherever you are without the need for a cable box? If so, then pull up a seat and we'll give you the 411 on this game-changing new service.

Cut to the chase

  • What is YouTube TV? A live streaming service like Sling TV
  • When is it coming out? It's available right now!
  • How much will it cost? $40 per month, unless you get an add-on package
  • Where can you watch it? Almost anywhere in the US

How to watch YouTube TV on your TV

First thing's first, you'll need to sign up for a free trial of the service. Once that's done, you can either tune in on your browser (tv.youtube.com) or find the YouTube TV app on your iOS and Android phone or tablet.

If you're looking for the old-school sit back experience, YouTube TV is available on Chromecast and Apple TV compatible by casting from your aforementioned phone and tablet or, if you're the proud owner of an Android TV and/or Roku device, you can find a dedicated app for YouTube TV on their respective channel stores. 

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 so big? It offers live TV without ever calling the cable company. People love it because they can watch and record live TV as it happens without paying for 1,000 channels they'll never watch. 

All that and it's way cheaper than cable. 

That said, while YouTube TV has capitalized on the cord-cutting zeitgeist, it wasn't the only streaming service in town: PlayStation Vue and Sling TV both arrived on the scene earlier, but stumbled in delivering an ideal experience. 

That's where YouTube TV has succeeded - it's delivered a better experience from the first day, and has found some 800,000 subscribers along the way.

It's worth pointing out, however, while YouTube TV isn't the most popular live streaming service in the country - an honor that belongs to Sling TV with its 2.4 million subscribers and followed closely by DirecTV Now - it's growing quickly thanks to its better DVR support.

And, should the service ever make its way to the UK where folks watch around 180m hours a day – a number that, according to The Guardian, is growing 45% year on year – it could spell big trouble for international service providers, too.

OK, so YouTube TV is big, you get that. But why should you care? Let’s talk about it.  

So how is YouTube TV different?

YouTube TV is a US-exclusive live 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. 

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. 

If you think you're going to just jump past the advertisements, though, think again. Like traditional cable, YouTube TV and its line-up of channels still need revenue beyond your month-to-month subscription fee – and advertisements, as much as we despise them, are YouTube's way of keeping the lights on.

YouTube TV on every device? We hope so.

YouTube TV on every device? We hope so.

But your monthly subscription isn't without its benefits – 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 you need to know about YouTube TV is its price: $40 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 $45 package that includes local stations like CBS, NBC, etc…

What channels are available on YouTube TV?

At last count, YouTube TV offers over 60 networks, including popular cable networks and on-demand programming available for viewing. That includes ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and more (which means every NFL game up to and including the Super Bowl, are yours to watch every Sunday) plus 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. 

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV vs. Hulu with Live TV

If you're here reading up on YouTube TV, it's also worth knowing about the other live streaming services on the market: Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue, among others.

While YouTube TV offers a lot at a reasonable price - making it the Goldilocks in terms of value and performance - the other options offer a bit less and cost less, or offer a bit more at a higher monthly price. 

The cheapest service out of them all is Sling TV, which starts at just $25 per month. It doesn't offer as many channels and has limited DVR capabilities, but if you're looking to go for a barebones replacement, it's the one to get. (As of right now, it's also the most popular live streaming service in America.)

If you're looking for a direct competitor to YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV offers a lot of the same DVR options and live TV channels that YouTube offers plus Hulu's entire catalog of streaming shows and movies. Plus, it's only $5 more per month. 

Last but not least, there's DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue. These services are a bit more premium than Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, and a bit less popular, too. They're good options to look into if all the rest don't work out. 

How is it different than YouTube Premium?

This can be sort of confusing, so listen up. YouTube Premium (what used to be called 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. 

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

Is there some crossover potential here between these two services? Absolutely. Maybe a subscription to YouTube TV also nets you a free subscription to Premium or Google Play Music or Google Play Movies & TV. Unfortunately, none of those services link together right now, but that could change down the road.

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 $40 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 can cost upwards of $120 to $150 a 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 significantly less. 

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

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 Apple TV and the Xbox One family of consoles and does video-on-demand, making it one of the best streaming services on the planet. 

It'd be nice if there were even more channels thrown in there, but as it stands, this is probably one of the best TV streaming services in the US right now, and well-worth its monthly fee for the majority of folks out there.

How soon can you start watching it? Right now. Just head over to tv.youtube.com to start your free trial.