YouTube XL: The Living Room Remodel Gets Delayed

YouTube today presented YouTube XL, a TV-optimized alternate layout for its site that runs through any web browser. Here’s a very short video demo, so you can get a look at what XL looks like on a big screen. Amid the bloggers’ heads and rapid typing, you get a view of an Android phone being used as a remote for XL, and HD video showing up full-screen.

Having returned home from the presser, I have a few more thoughts. Not to spend too much ink on this announcement — it’s just a browser version of YouTube, but the move of web delivery to the TV is one of the most important things we’re tracking. And upon reflection, I think YouTube’s lack of an aggressive take on the living room means a slowdown of that whole process. Bringing video to the TV is a matter of business development and marketing, and YouTube’s strategic revision indicates it’s divesting from that. Where in days gone by, it was busy signing Apple TV, HP MediaSmart, Verismo, Panasonic Viera…this year it seems to be saying, “Take it or leave it.”

It’s worth noting the limitations of the different approaches Hulu and YouTube have taken for the lean-back experience. Hulu Desktop, which also just came out, explicitly prohibits use in the living room, in the interest of protecting its content providers’ business models. So the new Hulu app is crippled and, in my opinion, not very compelling.

YouTube also has to deal with content licensing holdups to some extent, and XL is missing some premium content that’s only available online. But XL surfaces another limitation as we get closer to the living room. By choosing the browser as the delivery vehicle for online video, YouTube is pushing off mainstream usage until browser-enabled TVs become commonplace (at least two to three years, it says). Or, until folks go out and buy connector cords en masse.

I guess we shouldn’t expect to see any more glitzy CES presentations featuring YouTube, since the company said it will phase out TV-specific implementations via business development in favor of this open browser-based approach. But meanwhile, there’s an app store-ification of TVs and set-top boxes under way, with each platform trying to cultivate its own development. So this hands-off approach may mean YouTube gets pushed below the fold rather than prominently featured. YouTube is effectively removing itself as a prominent lobbyist for web content on TVs.

YouTube also reveals its expectation that XL will not be a massively popular product by leaving out ads entirely. The last people YouTube wants to anger are its loyal revenue-sharing partners, and if significant views started coming in through XL, you can bet they’d be pissed. So…we might want to take a rain check on this whole living room shebang.

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