YouTube TV begins testing multiview to let sports fans watch four games at once

Today, YouTube TV is launching early access testing for multiview, a feature that will allow subscribers to watch up to four different programs at the same time. “Those who are part of early access will receive an email and see an alert about this feature in their YouTube TV experience,” YouTube wrote in a blog post. There’s no way to manually opt in at the moment. “We’ll gradually roll out availability to all members over the coming months,” the company said.

But don’t get too excited. While multiview will heavily factor into YouTube’s plans for NFL Sunday Ticket coverage, right now, it’s very limited. Like, strictly limited to sports. YouTube says early access customers will be able to “watch up to four, pre-selected different streams at once.” Spokesperson Jessica Gibby clarified that “for the initial launch, it’s only the channels that have NCAA tournament games on them. Going forward, multiview will be available on sports content.”

But if you want to watch CNN (or something like an awards show) alongside that sports content, it seems like that’s not going to be in the cards for a while. In fact, you can’t even customize the multiview experience right now. “Over time, we’ll refine and add more functionality to multiview, including the option to customize your own multiview streams,” said German Cheung, engineering lead for the YouTube TV core experience team, in today’s blog post.

For now, you’ll be picking from batches of games that YouTube curates itself. You can get a sense of how that works from the below GIF. Instead of letting you manually add channels, YouTube TV presents recommended multiview sets.

An animation demonstrating the new multiview feature of YouTube TV.

YouTube TV will provide preselected multiview sessions.

GIF: Google

YouTube has prioritized compatibility above everything else. It’s not relying on your streaming device — be it an Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, or TV — to power multiview and juggle multiple streams at once. Rather, it’s all handled server-side. To your device, it looks like a normal single live feed. YouTube says it’s repurposing some of the tech originally built to help creators go live to pull off this approach to multiview.

Multiview is not a new concept for streaming TV services, mind you, and it’s certainly nothing revolutionary for satellite customers. Among streaming apps, you could make a case that Sony led the way with the now-defunct PlayStation Vue back in 2017. (Competitor FuboTV already offers it, too.)

I’m not sure why, but we’ve arrived at a place where YouTube’s brand-new implementation is somehow worse than what Sony offered five years ago. With Vue, you could include any of the service’s available channels in multiview. Maybe this goes to show how complex the negotiations between streaming services and networks have become; streaming TV services were still a novel thing in the Vue era, which likely benefitted Sony. It’s also possible that YouTube’s customer data has driven the sports-focused multiview experience, and the company thinks it’ll be fine leaving out regular programming.

YouTube plans to monitor feedback from multiview users as more people gain access over the next few months and as the all-important NFL season approaches. The goal is for all subscribers to have multiview by the time the regular season kicks off.

I’m sure that a lot of people will mainly use multiview for sports, so the sports-only limitation might not irk many. But considering how much YouTube TV costs each month, I’d at least hope the feature will gain some flexibility over time. YouTube’s Cheung says that “we’re looking to bring this multiview experience to the main YouTube app across TVs later this year.”

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