Just ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, Google’s live TV streaming service YouTube TV is rolling out nationwide, the company announced this morning. The service has been steadily expanding since its April 2017 debut, and became broadly available a little less than a year ago when it then reached the top 100 U.S. markets, or 85 percent of the country. Today, YouTube TV will begin its expansion in an additional 95 markets, covering more than 98 percent of U.S. households.
The remaining markets will follow shortly after, YouTube says.
The company’s strategy was not to launch with a limited service nationwide just so it could claim wide availability. Instead, it focused on making deals with the local affiliate stations ahead of each market’s launch. This allowed subscribers access to at least three of the top four major broadcasters (CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX), including their local news and sports.
This had been something of a competitive advantage for YouTube TV, as some rival services don’t include local stations, or only in select markets. With a few exceptions, that wasn’t the case for YouTube TV, however.
Along with the start of its nationwide availability, YouTube TV also said that it’s now providing complete local coverage — meaning feeds from the four largest broadcasters — in more than 90 percent of the markets where its service is available.
Despite a $5 per month price hike last March, YouTube TV has been growing quickly. At the beginning of the year, it had a reported 300,000+ subscribers, and by July it had scaled to nearly 800,000, reports claimed. It’s reasonable to think the service has since grown to at least a million subscribers, if not more, by now, but YouTube TV won’t share its numbers.
However, even at the million-subscriber mark the service would trail Hulu with Live TV, which reached this milestone in September. DirecTV Now and Sling TV, meanwhile, are much larger — 2.3 million and 1.8 million, also as of last fall.
On paper, YouTube TV has a compelling offering, with some 60+ TV networks for $40 per month, unlimited DVR and support for 6 accounts per household. The company has scored some notable promotional partnerships to raise awareness, as well, including one with the MLB for the World Series and another with the NBA.
But it has stumbled at times, as many of these streamers do — once even going down during the World Cup for an extended period of time. That can make people nervous about relying on live TV services like this for major sporting events, where it’s critical to not miss a single play. With nationwide availability, YouTube TV will have to prove itself as capable when the Super Bowl airs or risk further damage to its brand.