YouTube brings engineering edge to crowded vMVPD field

YouTube TV's video distribution backbone will be powered by Google's own sense of self-satisfaction.

The field of streaming skinny bundles is growing more crowded by the day, with Hulu set to launch one soon and DirecTV Now, Sling, PlayStation Vue, and offerings from traditional MVPDs all reaching the market in the same two-year span.

One quality may distinguish one of the newest entries, YouTube TV: engineering prowess. Its parent, Google, isn’t just any company dabbling in new markets, though it has done plenty of experimenting (remember this?) through its Google Labs division.

Rather, this is a company whose engineering bench is so deep and formidable that several employees presented a paper called “Deep Neural Networks for YouTube Recommendations” at a conference last fall sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery. Matt Gielen, founder and CEO of Little Monster Media, discussed the paper’s findings in a lengthy blog post. His main takeaway was that the goal for YouTube is something called Watch Time. That metric, more than individual video view time, “is what all of the factors that go into the algorithm are designed to create and prolong. The algorithm is weighted to encourage the greatest amount of time on site and longer watch sessions.”

Wait, but what does that have to do with YouTube’s skinny bundle?

Plenty, if you consider that this focus on deep learning and artificial intelligence can certainly make for a smarter skinny offering. More Watch Time on YouTube TV means more leverage with advertisers and programmers over time. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, in a report that reviewed YouTube TV upon launch last week, highlighted many of its intuitive features, which came from a company that has pioneered search, maps, email and many other areas of modern life.

Greenfield wrote, “The experience opens up with high-profile content airing later that you might want to record, what is most popular right now, continue watching shows you were watching, see content you recorded then lots of recommended content including movies, television shows and YouTube/YouTube Red content. Compare that to the legacy MVPD experience, where when you turn it on you get the last channel you were watching full-screen and can open up to a grid-like guide.”

DirecTV Now and Sling also struggled with tech outages and glitches in their early going. In the traditional bundled world, rivals competing in the same regions like Optimum and Fios have launched ad attacks on each other’s service records. So far, YouTube hasn’t followed that course or made its tech DNA a feature of its skinny bundle marketing, possibly because that same knack for innovation has invited headaches on the digital ad side lately. Many advertisers have pulled out of YouTube for fear of having their brands associated with offensive content such as fake news, racist material or even ISIS videos.

Linear is a different arena, even if it’s all happening under the same giant Google tent. And its engineering edge definitely bears watching as the Skinny Wars play out.