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Summary:

YouTube wants you to kick back and enjoy a stream of videos recommended by your Facebook friends with a new UI dubbed Leanback. It’s currently in beta, but there’s a good chance that Leanback will find its way to game consoles, DVRs and other connected devices.

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YouTube today debuted a new video consumption UI optimized for big screens that could one day find its way onto TiVos, game consoles, Google TV set-top boxes and other connected devices. The UI, which is called Leanback, was first demoed by YouTube’s director of product management Hunter Walk at Google’s I/O conference back in May 2010. It’s been made available to end users at Youtube.com/leanback this afternoon, offering an easy way to auto-play videos from your personal queue as well as suggestions from Facebook friends.

It’s all about making people watch more videos for longer. Walk told journalists at a press event at YouTube’s offices in San Bruno, Calif. earlier today that users of the video site currently spend about 15 minutes per day watching clips, whereas the average American still watches about five hours of TV per day. “We are an underdog… when you think about all the world of video,” he said. YouTube wants to change that by optimizing the living room experience, as well as making its content work better on big screens.

The latter point stirred up quite a few questions from attending journalists who wanted to know more about monetization strategies for Leanback (there are none implemented, for now), possible concerns of content owners (YouTube rentals won’t initially be part of Leanback, but should follow as soon as some technical issues are resolved) and the role this could play on the big screen. YouTube Leanback Product Manager Kuan Yong tried to wiggle out of this one this by repeatedly stressing that the new UI also works really well on a computer screen.

However, it looks like YouTube has some bigger plans for Leanback in store. The Leanback team admitted that it was looking at other distribution opportunities, with one scenario of implementing the UI on all kinds of different platforms that are already in the living rooms of consumers. In other words: Leanback could eventually become YouTube’s default UI for connected devices, ranging from DVRs to Blu-ray players to TVs with YouTube support to dedicated set-top boxes like the ones Google TV is going to run on.

Most current YouTube implementations on CE devices are pretty bare-bones, oftentimes relying on simple lists of the most popular and featured videos on the site, forcing users to personalize their experience by relying on hard-to-use on-screen keyboards. Leanback is much closer to the experience that you’re getting from Netflix’ Watch Instantly service, with a personal queue at the center of the UI. YouTube Leanback is also completely controllable with your cursor keys, which should make it work really well with most remote controls. Check out a video demo of Leanback below:

Related content on GigaOm Pro: With TV Apps, Over-the-Top Video Gets New Backers (subscription required)

  1. vinodgopinath Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Convenient. Probably the future of online video access on TVs. However the challenge is to fill that queue with relevant videos. People are spending a lot of time on sites outside of YouTube – CBS, Hulu, BBC etc. The ability to bring relevant video from all of these sites and more will be the key to a good user experience. It’s not easy. Any company that can crack this, can potentially be BIG.

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  2. [...] devices, including video game consoles, Blu-ray players and specialty gadgets such as …YouTube's Big Bet for Connected Devices: LeanbackNewTeeVee [...]

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  3. Janko, Youtube Leanback in its current state is simplicity, by design. I like it as-is, however I want to use this Youtube UI as a channel on my Roku player — that’s already connected to our family room TV set.

    Google’s Youtube team may have already contacted Roku, but if not then I suggest doing so ASAP. I’ll gladly be a beta tester.

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  4. [...] This is a page out of Netflix’s strategy. Just as the DVD-company has figured out that it eventually needs to move away from being prisoner to one screen (television), Kilar knows that Hulu’s future looks at opportunities beyond the web browser. (YouTube, however, is taking a different approach; creating different web browser versions that will work on a variety of devices.) [...]

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  5. [...] its previous strategy of individual deals with TV manufacturers. The new Leanback product, which also launched yesterday, is an extension of that strategy, taking users’ Facebook connections to compile a continuous [...]

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  6. [...] most users watch just 15 minutes of YouTube a day on average, Hunter Walk told reporters at a press event in July. But they watch five hours of TV, most of which is spent passively viewing what’s on. [...]

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