YouTube Steps Closer to Your TV With “Leanback”

Published on July 7, 2010
by Peter Kafka

Love YouTube but hate the burden of pressing a key to play a video? Then this is for you: YouTube’s “Leanback” feature is now available.

Leanback is really supposed to help Google accomplish two connected tasks: Keep users on the site for longer stretches, and convince them that the site is something they’d like to look at on their TV.

So it’s really two products in one: The first is a stream of videos that are personalized for each user and that play automatically–tantalizingly, Google (GOOG) says the service can link up with Facebook, so you can see the same clips your online pals are watching. The second product is a user interface that requires minimum input from a keyboard and that works well on big screens.

The big screen part is important given the upcoming Google TV push, where Google would like to insert itself into your living room set. I assume that moving YouTube videos to TVs can be a tricky thing to pull off given licensing restrictions–see Hulu, Hulu Plus, Boxee, Popbox, et al.–but a YouTube rep tells me the only thing that won’t work on Leanback are captioned videos. So we’ll see.

I haven’t played with it myself, so for now I’m relying on YouTube’s description of the service. Here’s YouTube product guy Hunter Walk describing it at Google’s I/O event in May:

And here’s YouTube’s more polished description, released today:

For now, at least, Leanback exists in a separate corner of the site, at But Google plans on integrating it into its Google TV product when that rolls out this fall. And if it works anywhere near as well as advertised, it could be very interesting.

Meanwhile, it’s product rollout day at YouTube: Earlier this afternoon it showed off a new mobile site, designed, apparently, to replace the YouTube app on Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and iPads. It’s particularly good for bicycle kicks, it seems:

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