YouTube Goes For The Holy Grail of TV

YouTube (s GOOG) has finally rolled out a new user interface, called YouTube Leanback, that promises a 10-foot viewing experience for connected devices. The UI, which was designed with Google TV in mind, aims to recreate the kind of non-stop viewing experience users have come to expect from watching TV.

YouTube Leanback was first introduced at Google I/O in May, when it was showing off what YouTube might look like on new Google TV devices. (To learn more about YouTube’s plans for Google TV, come see YouTube Director of Product Management Hunter Walk at NewTeeVee Live on November 10.) As a result, the new interface takes full advantage of a full TV screen for viewing videos that are typically shown on a PC.

But the more important part of making Leanback work is in providing an ongoing loop of programming to keep viewers watching. When a user first logs on to Leanback, the site offers up a stream of videos based on users subscriptions or viewing history. In addition, YouTube Leanback also provides a selection of 10 channels, which provide popular or interesting videos from different genres of content, such as Comedy, Entertainment, News and Science & Technology.

The “lean back” experience could be the holy grail of web video viewing, if YouTube can get it right. Currently, most users watch just 15 minutes of YouTube a day on average, Hunter Walk told reporters at a press event in July. But they watch five hours of TV, most of which is spent passively viewing what’s on. YouTube’s challenge, then, is to recreate a viewing experience where users don’t have to flip through videos finding the next thing they want to watch, but to provide them a continuous stream of compelling content. If it succeeds, viewers will spend more time on the site, YouTube video creators will get more views, and advertisers will show more ads. Everyone wins.

In addition to introducing a more passive viewing experience, YouTube is also making its rental store a part of YouTube Leanback, enabling viewers to rent streaming movie titles directly from within the Leanback interface. Making its rental store available on user TV sets may spur interest in rental offerings, which have yet to take off as part of YouTube’s web offering.

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