Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouTube Leanback Freshens Up for Google TV's Debut

One of the things that Google thinks you’ll do with Google TV is watch a lot of Google video, via YouTube. That’s why the search giant introduced a “Leanback” version of the site, designed for couch-bound surfers, over the summer.

And that’s why Google has freshened up Leanback for this weekend: Saturday is the first chance consumers will have to get their hands on Google TV for themselves, via sets sold at Sony’s Style stores. (Regular humans can buy the sets at Best Buy in a week.)

You don’t have to use Google TV to use Leanback. It will work on any PC and any browser, and it’s worth playing around with. Also, that will save me the trouble of telling you what it’s like.

I will tell you about a few tweaks Google has made to the site since its July launch, though:

  • You should now be able to watch any video in the YouTube catalog in Leanback mode. Previously some clips, primarily music videos, had not been available for the new format, due to licensing issues.
  • But just because you can watch any clip doesn’t mean you’ll want to see it on a big screen. Or to put it another way–some YouTube stuff will work particularly well on your TV, and the Leanback team has tried to show that stuff off with preselected channels and playlists.
  • There’s always a catch: Leanback, which had previously been ad-free, will now start showing you the preroll and overlay ads that you’re used to seeing on regular YouTube.

YouTube managers say that they’re already happy with Leanback in its current form. They cite internal research that shows YouTube users watch twice as much video when they use Leanback.

Impressive! Though I assume those tests were done on PCs, and I wonder how the experience will translate when you’re sitting 10 feet away from your screen, on your sectional.

But that’s pretty much the core question about Google TV–do people really want to watch Web video in their living room? We’ll begin to find out this fall.


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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”