YouTube may soon show free, ad-supported TV channels

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You could soon be tuning into TV channels on YouTube for free, as the feature is currently being tested with a small group of users in the US. It would put YouTube into more direct competition with the likes of Roku and Plex.

Originally reported by the Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab) and later confirmed by YouTube, the channels are collected together in a central hub that gives viewers a choice of what to watch, with various content partners signed up.

The idea is to “gauge viewer interest” according to YouTube’s statement. If the new addition is favorably received by those who are testing it, then it could apparently get a wider roll out at some point later this year.

A central destination

There will be a cut for YouTube as well – some 45 percent of the ad revenue, as per the report in the WSJ. That’s the exact same cut that it takes from advertising on YouTube videos made by content creators as well.

“YouTube is the only place where viewers can find everything they want and we’re always looking for new ways to provide viewers a central destination to more easily find, watch, and share the content that matters most to them,” YouTube told Gizmodo (opens in new tab).

This is separate to the YouTube TV service, which asks for a monthly fee in return for a variety of TV channels streamed over the web. It’s also possible to buy movies and television shows permanently through the YouTube interface.


Analysis: TV keeps changing

YouTube has actually been experimenting with TV shows for a long time. Anything bought through the Google TV interface can be accessed on YouTube, while numerous ad-supported programs were added to the platform in March of last year (opens in new tab).

This move is also a response to what other streaming platforms are doing. We’ve already mentioned Roku and Plex, which also offer free TV channels with ads, Netflix has introduced a cheaper tier with adverts, and Disney Plus is doing the same in March.

Throw in all the traditional ways to watch television that are still around, and viewers have a huge amount of choice when it comes to what they can watch (and how they can watch it) – whether that’s live TV or specific shows.

Of course YouTube wants as many eyeballs on its platform for as long as possible, and this is another step in that direction. See also YouTube Shorts, another recently introduced innovation to broaden YouTube’s appeal.

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