Another sign that Google is positioning YouTube to compete with broadcast and cable TV, as well as other video-streaming services like Hulu and Netflix: YouTube Live, a new branch of the hugely popular video-sharing service, debuted on Friday.
As its name suggests, YouTube Live provides live-streaming events rather than the recorded videos found on the regular YouTube site.
"With over 2 billion views a day, it's easy to think about YouTube as a place to watch videos recorded in the past. But you've told us you want more -- and that includes events taking place right now," Google managers Joshua Siegel and Christopher Hamilton wrote in a Friday post on The Official YouTube Blog.
The new live-streaming service includes YouTube Live, a home page where you'll find events streaming at this very moment, as well as information on events slated for today, tomorrow, and the next seven days. When you subscribe to one or more YouTube Live partners, you'll be notified of upcoming live streams on your YouTube homepage.
YouTube has streamed a variety of live events in the past, including musical events and cricket matches. But the new live channel is a more concerted effort to establish YouTube as a broadcast-style destination for real-time entertainment.
Initially, the live-streaming beta program will only allow select YouTube partners "with accounts in good standing" to stream live content on the site.
"The goal is to provide thousands of partners with the capability to live stream from their channels in the months ahead," wrote Siegel and Hamilton. "In order to ensure a great live stream viewing experience, we'll roll this offering out incrementally over time."
The New YouTube
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that YouTube plans to offer about 20 premium channels, each showcasing 5 to 10 hours of original, broadcast-caliber programming a week, by the end of the year.
Google's reported $100 million overhaul of its video-sharing service could position YouTube as a strong competitor to subscription-based streaming services such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, the latter of which recently announced plans to distribute original programming in addition to its usual fare of movies and TV episodes first shown elsewhere.
The addition of live programming might also give YouTube a competitive edge over Hulu Plus and Netflix, neither of which currently streams live events. As I've learned firsthand, one of the drawbacks of canceling cable TV service -- particularly if you live in an area with poor over-the-air broadcast reception -- is that it's often hard to watch real-time television programming, including sports and awards shows that aren't streamed live.
It remains to be seen whether YouTube -- or more likely a premium version of YouTube -- will become a subscription service like Hulu Plus and Netflix. Whatever happens, YouTube seems determined to move beyond its humble origins. After all, you can only watch cute cats dancing on pianos so many times.