YouTube today announced that it will be streaming ad-supported free TV shows for the first time, a move that will directly compete with the growing number of free streaming services in the market, including Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, Peacock Zumo, Plex, and NBCU. The company said it will initially give its users in the US access to more than 4,000 free-to-air TV series, including Hell’s Kitchen, Andromeda, Heartland.
YouTube is already home to many ad-supported free movies, so today’s launch of Free TV is a continuation of existing free streaming efforts and not something entirely new to the company.
There are currently over 1,500 films hosted on YouTube by companies such as Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Filmrise and more. This month, for example, new movies have been added such as Gone in Sixty Seconds, Runaway Bride and Legally Blonde.
But the broader streaming industry, which includes both ad support and subscription, is leaning towards TV over movies. New original projects that were likely movies, or at least miniseries in earlier eras, are now often released as binge shows. Platform makers are also loving this trend as it means users are spending more hours watching content on their services. Talent and Money has long been followed, and in recent years, series have received significant attention and recognition only when compared to Hollywood films.
Meanwhile, free TV streaming is now gaining momentum in the broader streaming market.
According to Kantar, 85% of US households have a video subscription, but quarterly growth is driven primarily by ad-supported free-to-air television and ad-supported video-on-demand services. By the fourth quarter of 2021, 18% of U.S. households now use at least one ad-supported free-to-air television service—a figure more than doubling from the fourth quarter of last year. According to Kantar, the newest users in the last quarter were those who signed up for Peacock, IMDb TV, Tubi and The Roku Channel accounts.
Meanwhile, YouTube has a significant impact on connected TV in the US, if not free TV. Nielsen data shows that over 135 million people watched YouTube on connected TVs in the US by December 2021. But when users searched for a TV show on YouTube, they were prompted to rent or buy the corresponding title—free streaming was not possible.
This will change with the launch of the free TV service. YouTube says it will now introduce new navigation and immersive banners to help users choose how they want to watch — either through rental, purchase, or free with ads where it’s available. YouTube reports that viewers’ ad breaks vary in frequency and the context in which they watch the show. Most ads are sold through the YouTube Select program.
In addition to a few big names, many free shows are old series such as Father Knows Best, Unsolved Mysteries, 21 Jump Street, The Carol Burnett Show, That Girl, Car 54, Where are you?”, “The Lone Ranger”, “Hopelong Cassidy”, “Laughter”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and others. Many free shows only offer 1 or 2 seasons, even if the series is longer. This library won’t immediately make YouTube the best place for free TV, but it can sometimes alleviate boredom for regular YouTubers.
YouTube also noted that many of its free TV shows are available in 1080p high definition with 5.1 surround sound on supported devices.
The shows will be available to U.S. users starting today via a web browser, on mobile devices, and on connected TVs via the YouTube TV app. You can see the full list of shows at YouTube.com/freeshows.