The Joy (and Hazards) of Watching YouTube on TV

By  |  Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 7:38 am

YouTube TVHave you ever wanted to watch YouTube on your TV?

I have, ever since Tivo started allowing YouTube streaming to their DVRs back in July 2008. And I’m here to confess: I’m a huge fan. Watching YouTube on my HDTV has radically changed how I “watch TV”.

One night I decided to do an experiment. I skipped watching regular prime time TV and only watched YouTube videos from my Tivo. I signed in to YouTube, so I could access my favorites, and playlists. Two hours later, I found that it was a very fascinating journey.

What did I watch? Anything that looked interesting, including some of my old YouTube favorites. Mostly, I let the videos lead me to the next one via suggestions and related content. It was an exercise in random discovery. I followed certain YouTube users. Then I would backtrack a bit and find myself on another trail of YouTube discovery. I spent some time watching music videos. I searched for classic Internet favorite videos. I even watched some of YouTube’s promoted videos, and found some of them were pretty good. (My current favorite is something called Thru-You, a YouTube mashup, where someone grabbed random musical clips from YouTube and created awesome songs.)

Yes, there were lots of crappy videos, but if something disappointed I would just stop playing the video after a few seconds and find something else. But I can away impressed with some of the cuttin-edge videos I found. Clearly, some people are uploading very creative, professional and interesting content that should have an audience.

In fact, I almost prefer to watch YouTube on my TV over watching on my PC. Why? For starters, I can share my YouTube viewing experience with others, like my wife or friends who happen to be over. I don’t have to open the laptop and have everyone huddle over the screen. I just turn on the TV and navigate to YouTube on Tivo.

Overall, I discovered that I really didn’t miss regular TV at all. (Well, I knew Tivo was recording all my favorites to watch later, so I wasn’t worried about missing anything important.)

Why do I love YouTube on my HDTV? Here’s a short list:

  • You can watch almost anything. If you’re looking for a video clip, chances are it’s already on YouTube; anything from gotcha news clips to music videos to something you missed on TV last night. I actually watched an entire episode of ABC’s Wife Swap on YouTube one night (even though it was broken up in 5 different sections). I had missed the original TV airing of the show and wanted to see it for myself because of some controversy. And fortunately someone uploaded the entire episode to YouTube. In short, if you missed it on TV, watch it on YouTube.
  • My YouTube favorites are available. I can sign in to YouTube via Tivo and access all my favorites to watch on my TV. Actually, that’s not completely correct. I noticed that about 10 to 15 percent of my videos aren’t available via YouTube for some inexplicable reason. Many of them are music videos, which made me suspicious that Tivo (or YouTube) might be blocking certain types of content. But after speaking to a Tivo rep, they said they don’t block content and it may just be a glitch in the URL. Anyway, I can bookmark a video on my PC then go to my TV set and watch it there.
  • Quality is OK for most videos. Surprisingly, it’s easy to overlook the poor quality of many YouTube videos. There are no HD versions available on Tivo/YouTube (yet), so you only get standard quality. Lots of videos look OK, some older clips look terrible, and others look pretty good. Watching YouTube on an HDTV set seems crazy, but you won’t care. The average length of an online video is only 3 minutes, says Comscore. So by the time you get sick of the pixilation and grainy video, it’s already over. And most video experts say that the most important part of any video is the audio. If that’s not working correctly, users will bail completely on the video.
  • You don’t get YouTube ads. In order to generate revenues, YouTube has started showing overlay advertising in the lower part of the video screen. However, these are only visible using a PC. On Tivo’s YouTube interface, I’ve never been subjected to an overlay ad. I’ve also never seen an pre- or post-roll ad, even though it seems YouTube isn’t doing as much as it did a few months ago. Will this last? I doubt it. I think YouTube will get smarter about attaching commercials in the future.

So what is the downside of YouTube on my TV? Generally, it’s because I can’t replicate the YouTube experience I get on my PC. Here are my top reasons:

  • Can’t see or write Comments. Some might say this is a good thing, since many YouTube comments aren’t exactly family friendly. Or even coherent. But it would be nice to be able to see what people are saying about the video. Fortunately, I can see the rating and number of views for each video, which is good enough to evaluate whether I want to watch the video, perhaps. The other downside is that you can’t read the full, expanded video description—Tivo on YouTube cuts off the description after just about 6 lines or so.
  • No high-quality videos. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no way to watch HD YouTube videos. YouTube has a button on the player interface that let’s you watch an HD version of some videos, but that button isn’t available through Tivo’s interface. I miss HD mostly when it comes to music videos.
  • I can’t see some videos. Aside from some music videos issue I mentioned earlier, I’ve noticed a few other videos that aren’t playable from YouTube via Tivo. They work fine when I try to watch from my PC, but when I log in from Tivo, some of my favorites are missing. I’m hoping this is a technical issue, but I just found out that YouTube is blocking music videos into the U.K. because of licensing disputes.
  • Finding Quality content is difficult. There are lots of videos on YouTube, and not all of them are worth watching. Actually, some make you to yourself: “I’ll never get those 2 minutes of my life back.” Others will have you laughing out loud or shaking your head in awe. How do you find the best YouTube videos? I think a human filter is needed. Self discovery is fun, but getting recommendations from your friends and family is how lots of YouTube videos become hits.

Now, I don’t think everyone is going to love YouTube on TV. Many people believe that YouTube is just random, forgettable videos and don’t believe there’s anything fun or useful. But YouTube isn’t just people playing guitars, or lip synching or trying to use their heads to bash watermelons. There are lots of compelling YouTube artists out there—it’s just hard to find them. Watching YouTub,e isn’t like watching broadcast TV. There’s no TV Guide, everything is on-demand and the videos are short. So you can take a quick YouTube break, and watch David After Dentist, or Sleepwalking Dog for a few minutes, then go back to watching American Idol and Lost.

Still, am I wrong to believe that Hollywood is worried to death about YouTube on TV? There are no technical limitations to deliver YouTube (or the Internet) to the TV, so why don’t cable and satellite operators offer it? Why do I have to get it from Tivo? Perhaps Hollywood just isn’t ready to compete with YouTube on TV just yet.

Have you used Tivo on your TV set? Go ahead and tell us what you think in the comments below. And happy YouTube-ing!


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Marc Says:

    When the next “West Wing” or “X-Files” appears on YouTube, I’ll be convinced it could potentially replace TV.

  2. Jose Alvear Says:

    It’s not about replacing TV with the Internet. They can work alongside each other. That is actually the topic of my next post here at Technologizer.

    You’ll watch different things via the Internet than you do on your TV.

  3. Dave Zatz Says:

    Most YouTube content is crap and TiVo’s interface is too slow. I also prefer longer form entertainment. So, that’d be a no. 😉

  4. John Says:

    I totally agree that it can be a pleasant experience. When VUDU introduced the YouTube feature, I was skeptical at first because I didn’t think the videos would look good on a larger screen. They do, and they are enjoyable to watch.

    Me and my roomies watched YouTube through VUDU for about 2 hours before we got bored. It’s been a common occurrence since then.

  5. Marc Says:

    My point I guess was that an evening spent watching a high quality drama or documentary is on TV, I feel, well spent. An hour or two watching blokes back-flipping into jeans (search for it, it’s pretty cool) feels wasted. it’s what I call “hangover TV”. You watch it on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t require much thinking, but cheers you up enough to make you forget about the sore head.

    The only time I have ever watched YouTube on the TV (via the Wii) is when I’v got a few mates round, and yes, we’re all a bit hung over 🙂

    I will await your future post with interest 🙂

  6. Jose Alvear Says:

    Keep in mind YouTube integration in the TV is just the first step. Imagine that instead of YouTube, you were able to view Hulu.

    It’s really all about the content that you want to watch. Kids today are more interested in watching cool clips on YouTube, rather than watching regular TV. Adults are more interested in Hollywood’s scripted TV shows.

    Already, I can watch NetFlix on my TV screen (through Tivo and Xbox360). However the problem NetFlix has is stale content. Most of the streaming titles are from the back catalog, although I’ve really enjoyed watching some Showtime series (like Dexter and Weeds) using NetFlix.

    And I took watching YouTube on my TV to the extreme. I don’t expect anyone to watch 2 hours straight. YouTube is meant to be experienced in short doses, and preferably with a hangover!

  7. Roxanne Says:

    I find YouTube on the tv is a fun group actvity… Everyone can share and enjoy their favorite things together. It encourages more interaction regular tv formats.

    However, I’m a techmudgeon and find anything less than getting the content I want – where, when and how I want it- and now – is totally unacceptable. In fact, shouldn’t a robot that looks like a teddy bear be typing this for me?

  8. john dean Says:

    I don’t have cable so it’s hard to keep up with Dexter every week which is my favorite show. So I just go to and check the episodes out there… that saves the day lol.

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