View Finder: YouTube becomes a broadcaster and Netflix improves compression

Nick Broughall 3 March 2017 NEWS

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All while Netflix begins its reality TV takeover.

If you look at the history of Google, the search giant has had a huge number of misfires in the past. Who can forget the spectacular failures of Google Plus, Google Buzz, Google Wave or Google Glass? But for all those disappointments, the Googlers have also had a heap of wins. Like YouTube.

This week YouTube announced that it wasn't content with just trying to take on the likes of Netflix with its YouTube Red subscription service. It also wants to be a digital broadcaster, delivering linear television streams to an online audience.

The catchcry is that the streams are "broadcast" live. YouTube is working with networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and popular cable networks. They're offering an unlimited cloud-based DVR so subscribers can record everything they want to watch and never run out of storage.

Where this becomes especially interesting is when it comes to streaming live sports. YouTube TV has partnered with ESPN, as well as regional sports networks like Fox Sports Networks and Comcast SportsNet, which will allow subscribers to watch their favourite MLB or NBA teams play live.

To be honest, I think this is where the idea gets most interesting, as well as where it faces its toughest challenge at international expansion. Linear TV isn't that interesting a proposition in the age of Netflix, but live sports is very much a ripe market for streaming.

In Australia we've seen it with the likes of Optus's EPL coverage and Telstra's Netball offering, but we've also seen the challenges of digital sporting rights, like Telstra's NRL and AFL apps not allowing streaming to big screens because of rights limitations.

If YouTube can somehow overcome this hurdle with YouTube TV, that would be a massive win for the company, though there would undoubtedly be some pretty strong resistance from the likes of Foxtel.

In any case, it's only for limited areas in the US for now and there's no word of plans to expand internationally anyway.

Netflix getting real

Is there any genre of entertainment that the Netflix Originals juggernaut won't crush? Drama, comedy and documentaries are all Netflix Originals staples now – the company even won an Oscar this week – and now the streaming giant is setting its sights on reality TV.

According to the Hollywood reporter, by the end of the year, "Netflix's unscripted output, which includes docusoaps, competition series and talk shows, will be in the double digits". Among those is a reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

I personally have no interest in reality TV whatsoever, but Netflix's global presence opens up opportunities that TV networks can't even begin to fathom. You can already see that to some extent with Ultimate Beastmaster, which has a global competition running, but Netflix is already thinking bigger. Netflix's VP of original content has been quoted as saying, "Why not dream to have the scale of the Olympics for other kinds of contests?"

No question, this is going to put immense pressure on the likes of hayu.

Better compression for everyone

While Netflix is spending up big on content, it's also working hard on its technology. In particular, this week the company showed off some new compression technology that is aimed at both reducing mobile data consumption for streaming Netflix and avoiding horrible buffering at times that mobile data connections are a little spotty.

The new technology will dynamically adjust the compression rate based on the contents of a scene, rather than uniformly applying the same compression to the entire video.

I'm a big fan of Netflix's offline viewing functionality, but this is just smart business for the streaming service. If customers know they can watch shows on their smartphones at any time without significantly chewing through their data allowance, they're going to do it more and more.

Coupled with all that great original content that we've already discussed, Netflix is going to go from a Netflix anywhere strategy to a Netflix everywhere strategy, and I'm 100% on board with that.

This week in streaming

Netflix took home its first Oscar this week for its documentary The White Helmets. It's a 40-minute documentary about first responders in Syria and it's on the top of my watch list for this weekend. It should probably be at the top of yours as well.

Each week, View Finder rounds up the latest news in streaming TV and movies for Australians.

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