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YouTube looks to transform TV experience, says Varela

Bringing fully featured YouTube to the TV is a key priority for the video portal, according to Francisco Varela, global director of platform partnerships, YouTube, delivering the opening keynote on the second day of the TV Connect event in London. Varela said that version 4 of YouTube’s TV app and the implementation of the Discovery and Launch (DIAL) protocol would help transform the YouTube TV experience over the coming year. 

First implemented through APIs, YouTube decided that the original YouTube TV experience, which delivered standard definition only and was plagued by buffering and poor navigation, was not satisfactory, said Varela. “Searching via [an] onscreen keyboard drives you mad”. Version 4 of the TV platform is therefore based on using only the four basic navigation keys of remote controls. “It’s designed to get you to the video as quickly as possible,” Varela told attendees at TV Connect. YouTube has also implemented adaptive bit-rate streaming to give a better experience, he said.

Varela said YouTube was working closely with chipset vendors and connected TV device manfuacturers including games console providers to delivery a full-features service on the maximum possible number of platforms.

Varela said that the DIAL protocol, launched last year in partnership with Netflix, was a key development,

“The TV is the best place to be [for playback] but discovery is better on the phone and on tablet,” he said. “We are using the TV as our first screen and the mobile as the discovery piece.”

DIAL improved the experience by reducing the number of steps necessary to pair a mobile device with the TV screen, he said. Varela added that DIAL also means that second screen users can access YouTube on TV while using their mobiles and tablets to check email or other applications.

Varela hailed the global explosion in mobile data and mobile video consumption, with one to two billion people “joining the mobile conversation” over the next two to three years. Over 25% of global YouTube views were now on mobile devices with this being higher in advanced mobile countries including Korea, he said.

Varela claimed that YouTube is focusing on making all video content available on the mobile phone, while the new iOS app launched last year was designed to make all YouTube features available on the iPhone.

Most mobile consumption is via WiFi networks, he said. However, this could change as mobile bandwidth improves. “4G is incredible and people will use the best network available,” he said.

Varela said that YouTube had changed its approach to platform development over the last three years, after abandoning its original approach of making YouTube’s APIs available to partners. The API approach meant that YouTube experiences tended to be different on each and every device, with some devices restricted to a basic playback experience, he said. Delivering monetisation through advertising was also problematic with open APIs. YouTube therefore ceased commercial API implementation in 2009 and partnerships are now based on a YouTube-developed experience, he said.

“We can’t accept a limited experience for our users any longer,” said Varela. “We can now provide a very consistent and fully featured experience for our users.”

Varela said YouTube would increasingly look to build penetration in emerging markets, particularly via mobile platforms. Emerging markets like India where users were coming to mobile for the first time was a key market, he said.

“We are now the second most searched site in the world, with only Google above us,” said Varela, adding that his team’s job at YouTube was to make sure YouTube was available on as many devices as possible worldwide.