YouTube’s Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan confirmed today a new milestone for YouTube’s live TV streaming service, YouTube TV. Speaking on a panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, the exec said the service has now surpassed 5 million paid subscribers and “trialers” in just five years, he said. This figure initially seems to position the streamer ahead of its nearest rival, Hulu + Live TV, which now has 4.1 million subscribers as of April 2022. However, Hulu owner Disney does not include users on trials in its figure as YouTube does, so a direct comparison here is not possible.
Reached for comment, YouTube declined to say how many among the 5 million were paying subscribers and how many were on trials. Hulu confirmed its 4.1 million subscribers, meanwhile, are those where it’s seeing subscription revenue.
Google had not offered a paid subscriber figure since Q3 2020 when it then said the YouTube TV service had more than 3 million paid subscribers. (At that time, it wasn’t including users on trials in its figures, the company told us.)
Given the lack of updated official figures, analysts took to estimating the market instead and found YouTube TV to be ahead of its rivals as of last fall. In September 2021, MoffettNathanson estimated YouTube TV had pulled ahead of Hulu + Live TV to become the largest live TV streaming service in the U.S. (or virtual MVPD — Multichannel Video Programming Distributor — in industry lingo). The firm said YouTube TV had grown to include around 4 million subscribers, which had topped Hulu + Live TV’s then 3.7 million subscribers.
If YouTube TV had actually now taken the lead over Hulu’s live TV service based on subscriber counts alone, one would think it wouldn’t need to round out its figure with “trialers” in order to have an impact. (Although then it wouldn’t sound as good as “5 million in 5 years,” we suppose!)
Both services are well ahead of their closest competitors, including Sling TV and fuboTV, which closed out 2021 with 2.49 million and 1.13 million subscribers, respectively.
“Five years ago we launched YouTube TV to rethink how we watch live TV, give users more choice, and unlock a new revenue stream for our partners,” said Mohan, in reference to the new subscriber figure. “Today, we’re thrilled that YouTube TV has become a thriving business of more than 5 million subscribers and trialers. This milestone is a testament to the amazing work the team has done to build a best-in-class experience,” he said.
Since launching, YouTube TV has grown to include over 100 channels, launched add-ons like 4K Plus and Sports Plus, and has rolled out new features to differentiate its service from others. In sports, for instance, it launched a “no spoiler mode” so you wouldn’t see sports scores for specific teams, along with kickoff notifications, real-time stats, key plays information and a fantasy view that lets you link a fantasy football account to YouTube TV to keep track of progress. News consumers, meanwhile, can also use a “segments” feature to jump directly to different parts of a broadcast.
However, YouTube TV has also often raised its prices, as have its rivals, going from a $35 per month launch price to now $65 per month, as it’s added on more programming. It’s gotten enmeshed with contract disputes, too, warning customers last year they’d lose 18 Disney-owned channels at one point, only to come to a last-minute agreement to provide continued access. To some consumers, these sorts of antics are much like those they faced in paid TV days and had hoped to leave behind with a switch to streaming.
This could also be hampering growth in addition to the price hikes and the broader competitive landscape where consumers’ subscription dollars are tied up in on-demand services, like Netflix, and where free streamers like Pluto TV offer alternatives to live television.