The world’s biggest video site is coming to America’s biggest pay TV company: Comcast plans to integrate YouTube into its X1 set-top boxes.
It’s the second big move Comcast has made to tie internet video into the traditional TV programming it sells; last year, the pay TV provider* brought Netflix into the X1 box.
The YouTube integration, which is supposed to happen later this year, will look a lot like the Netflix integration: X1 users will be able to access all of YouTube’s videos via a dedicated app on the box, and Comcast will also suggest some YouTube videos to video surfers alongside its traditional programming. All of it will be accessible via voice command.
So X1 users (Comcast says “nearly 50 percent” of its 22.5 million video customers have the newish box) who are looking at, say, episodes of “Top Chef” may also see suggestions to watch cooking videos from Tastemade or other YouTube programmers.
Big picture: It’s 2017, and stuff you watch on a screen is stuff you watch on a screen, and sorting that stuff into groups labeled “TV” and “web video” makes less and less sense. So it’s good — and well past time — that Comcast and YouTube/Google/Alphabet figured out how to do this.
- There’s no money changing hands here, for now. YouTube and its partners will keep all of the ad revenue generated by videos that Comcast subscribers watch. That said, people familiar with the companies’ plans say that Comcast may eventually allow its customers to subscribe to YouTube Red, YouTube’s ad-free subscription service, directly from X1. And Comcast likely would earn a fee from that transaction.
- But Comcast doesn’t plan to help YouTube sell “Unplugged” — the “skinny bundle” of traditional TV networks including CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC — that YouTube is planning to roll out soon. Still, if you’re watching a YouTube video on your X1 box, you may well end up seeing ads promoting YouTube’s new service, anyway. So Comcast is going to end up assisting a rival to its own TV bundles, one way or another.
- Showing web video side by side with “real” TV is something YouTube and Google have been trying to pull off for years. Recall, if you can, the first iteration of Google TV, way back in 2010. The fact that it has taken this long shows you the strength of the TV guys compared to industries like music and newspapers, which had to make deals with Google and its ilk a long time ago.
- Do you remember “Watchable,” Comcast’s attempt to create a mini YouTube of its own by pulling together clips of videos you could watch on YouTube and some other places and creating its own X1-accessible service? It still exists. Weird.
* Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.