Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Thursday, 8 July 2010 09:05 UK

YouTube bids for screen dominance

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

a old black and white tv set
Can YouTube make the jump to rule the roost in the living room?

The world's biggest video site wants to dominate every screen where content can be viewed and created.

YouTube is already a leader online and in mobile and has firmly set its sights on the living room.

The company charted its course during the launch of a new product called Leanback, described by some as web video for couch potatoes.

It also unveiled upgrades for its mobile site which has over 100 million playbacks a day.

"You can start to break down the mental picture of 'these are the videos I watch on my computer, on my tv or on my phone,'" Hunter Walk, director of product management told BBC News.

"Now you just say 'these are the videos I watch and I watch them wherever I happen to be, or whoever I happen to be with'. We are going to have a world where people increasingly expect their content to be available to them on anything with a screen, whether that be a computer, a phone or a tv. That is the vision," said Mr Walk.


With 24 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, YouTube is already the world's biggest video website.

And with Leanback, YouTube is now vying for the attention of the user in the living room.

Leanback screen shot YouTube with pic of an ear
People watch 2 billion videos a day on YouTube

"This really is where the opportunity is biggest for YouTube right now," said Kuan Yong, senior product manager for Leanback.

"We are looking at five hours of tv that users are watching every day in the US versus 15 minutes of YouTube video, so there is a huge opportunity for us to bring YouTube into the living room and at the same time bring some of the tv experience to YouTube."

The technology picks out high-definition clips and automatically serves up a constant stream of one video after another. As it learns more about the viewers' likes and dislikes, this diet of video becomes more personalised.

The aim is to ensure users do not have to think about what they want to see next or click on the website every few minutes.

"We want to remove the 'What next?' question for viewers," said Mr Yong.

'Channel of you'

Mr Walk said Leanback marked the emergence of a single channel world.

"This is about the 'Channel of You'. You become the programmer of the content you want to see as opposed to someone sitting in the corner of a room that doesn't know you. This is about knowing about your interests to pull content to you.

leanback youtube screen shot
Leanback is in beta and expected to launch in the autumn

"And the challenge is all about making it effortless for you to get a stream of constant videos that are going to be interesting and relevant and targeted at you based on what your interests are and what your friends are watching," said Mr Walk.

Leanback is seen as part of the company's effort to grow from a website into a "video operating system" that is as ubiquitous and easy to use as television.

It is also regarded as a product that will dovetail seamlessly with Google's tv ambitions, which aim to change the way consumers watch television. Back in May, the search giant announced its plans for an internet-focused tv in partnership with Sony, Intel, Dish Network and Logitech.

The Sony made sets are due to go on sale in the autumn.

"Whenever you think of video, YouTube wants you to think of them," Ben Parr, co-editor of news website told the BBC.

"By making video available from the smallest screen to the biggest no matter where you are, they can succeed in that goal. Whether they can win in the living room is the billion dollar question. It is just unclear if people want to watch YouTube video after YouTube video versus professionally made shows on the networks," he said.

Mobile changes

YouTube also upgraded its mobile website to make watching video on the move more convenient and quality driven at a time when more and more consumers reach the internet over smartphones.

youtube mobile website
The mobile update comes amid an explosion of smartphone sales

"YouTube consumption on mobile devices has grown considerably," said Andrey Doronichev, mobile product manager.

"Playbacks were up 160% in 2009 over the previous year. The world is heading mobile and we want to move with it."

The updated site promises faster speeds along with the ability to create playlists, designate favourite videos and receive search query suggestions.

And with the upgrade, YouTube appeared to be aiming to steer iPhone users away from the application that comes preinstalled on the Apple smartphone.

In a blog post, the company said "As we make improvements to, you'll see them quickly follow on our mobile site, unlike native apps which are not updated as frequently."

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