PBS arrives on YouTube TV

Downton Abbey is going over the top, and Frontline will no longer be on the trailing edge: PBS has finally made its way to over-the-top video with Wednesday’s announcement that some 100 stations are now available on Google’s YouTube TV.

“Huge,” reacted TV[R]EV co-founder and lead analyst Alan Wolk in an email. “I am shocked it took them so long.”

The move was held up by licensing delays and negotiations between Arlington, Virginia-based PBS and its 300-plus member stations over how to preserve their local identity in a move to online distribution. The YouTube TV deal fills in one of the biggest remaining gaps between cable and satellite TV providers and their newer, streaming rivals.

“Adding local PBS stations makes YouTube TV more of a direct replacement for traditional pay-TV,” emailed Brett Sappington, senior research director and principal analyst at Parks Associates. Especially, he added, for parents: “Many streaming services are adding children’s content in an effort to attract young families with children, who are prime targets for switching to online pay-TV services.”

All of the major markets appear to be represented. Although PBS’ list of 102 participating stations and networks doesn’t include Houston, a check of a Space City Zip code at YouTube TV’s site shows PBS among the locals available on Google’s $50/month service.

PBS says more stations will come online in 2020 but isn’t talking about availability on other streaming services. (These and other local stations remain free to watch over the air with an antenna, assuming reception permits.) In January, however, WGBH told FierceVideo that it aimed to be on multiple OTT services, even if it would start with only one or two.

Wolk put in a vote for expanding PBS availability.

“With so much on TV right now, it’s easy to forget about PBS if you can’t get it, and the fact that they are on only one vMVPD is a crime,” he said. “There are close to 10 million vMVPD subs right now, and YouTube only represents 2 million of those subs at most.”

In November, MoffettNathanson estimated that Hulu with Live TV led the OTT race, with 2.7 million subscribers, with Dish Network’s Sling TV just behind. That research firm put YouTube TV in third place, with an estimated 1.6 million subscribers.

“Margins are already thin for online pay-TV services,” Sappington warned. “So, rivals must believe that the number of new subscribers will be worth the additional content expense.”

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The potential market, however, seems set to increase as cord cutting continues in massive numbers. MoffettNathanson estimated aggregate video subscriber losses of 1.74 million among AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon in the third quarter alone, and UBS predicted that cord cutting could hit 6.2 million in 2020.