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YouTube TV Could Have Been Called YouTube Air


YouTube Air Logo

In another life, YouTube TV could have been called ‘YouTube Air’ and might have even required the use of an antenna. Thankfully, not all original concepts and prototypes make it to market as first proposed, and YouTube TV has since evolved into one of the most popular and feature-rich services around.

Like most live TV streaming services, YouTube TV offers advantages over its traditional TV counterparts. The most commonly touted are the lack of any additional equipment, the absence of a lengthy contract, and the cheaper plans in general. While the latter of these advantages appears to be slowly eroding away, the equipment and contract points continue to be major reasons to switch to a service like YouTube TV and stream live TV over the internet.

YouTube is one of the leading forces in this space. In fact, it was just last week when YouTube confirmed that its live TV service hit five million subscribers. Not only a personal milestone for the service, but also one which initially seems to cement YouTube TV’s position as the most popular live TV streaming service in the United States. In addition to announcing the subscriber milestone, the blog post by YouTube TV’s Vice President of Product Management, Christian Oestlien, also revealed that Google was originally considering calling the service “YouTube Air.”

In explaining why the Air name was being considered at the time, Oestlien revealed how the YouTube TV team used an over-the-air antenna during the prototype stage. According to Oestlien, the service was also internally known as “Unplugged.” A name inspired by the service’s ability to deliver live TV without the need to plug in a cable box.

“When YouTube TV started out, a group of engineers climbed onto the roof of YouTube headquarters while holding an antenna in order to build a prototype.”

Christian Oestlien/YouTube

YouTube TV originally launched in the United States in 2017 – this year isn’t just important for hitting five million subscribers, but it is also the five-year anniversary of the service as well. Of course, the YouTube TV of back then was a very different service to what’s on offer today. For starters, when the service launched back on April 5th, 2017 it was only available in the following locations in the United States:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco Bay Area
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia

It wasn’t actually until 2019 when YouTube TV would claim to offer nationwide access to live TV. Another major difference was the price. Although a YouTube TV subscription currently costs $64.99 per month, the original 2017 version cost just $35. A price that remained in effect up until March 2018 when the cost increased by $5 to $39.99. At the time, existing subscribers were able to avoid this increase and even managed to keep their subscription locked at $35 right up until April 2019. This is when the company’s second price hike arrived, increasing the cost to $49.99 per month for both new and existing subscribers.

Even though the price has continued to increase since those early days, the service itself has also gone through various changes. Naturally, the channel lineup is one of the best examples of this. In its current form, YouTube TV offers access to more than 85 live TV channels and provides a good mixture of news, entertainment and sports content. Back in 2017, however, the channel lineup was limited to around 50 networks.

YouTube TV channels at launch
YouTube TV’s original channel lineup

In spite of the changes, some things have never changed and have actually helped to somewhat shape the live TV streaming landscape of today. Even back in 2017, YouTube TV was offering subscribers an unlimited cloud DVR and the ability to share a subscription with up to 5 other people. The service that could have been called YouTube Air has also always offered a free trial to test out the base plan, as well as the ability to cancel at any time and for any reason.

John Finn


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