YouTube’s Big Bet for Connected Devices: Leanback

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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:

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