The time people spent watching YouTube in their living rooms more than doubled in 2015, and the company wants to push that even further with a new redesign of its app.
Over the past few years, YouTube’s living room app, which works on devices like smart TVs or streaming players, has gone through several design iterations. The point of those shake-ups has always been to get people to stay longer and come back more often, Sarah Ali, who heads up living room products for YouTube, tells Business Insider.
In the living room, YouTube is competing in the “lean back” arena, against foes like Netflix and Hulu instead of Facebook or Snapchat. And it means YouTube has to focus on different things. Perfecting the browsing experience is of utmost importance in the living room. No one is coming to YouTube from links, as is often the case on mobile. You are simply sitting down on a couch, opening the app, and trying to find something to watch.
Striking a balance between giving the user control and not making the interface overly complicated it tough, so it’s no wonder the app’s design has, since 2011, bounced from menu-laden to flat design to some happy medium of the two.
In its current iteration, the carousel spotlights categories like “recommended,” “trending,” and “news” at the top. These you might expect, but the app also showcases categories that speak more directly to the living room experience.
People simply watch differently in the living room than they do on the phone, Ali says. Categories like “travel,” “cartoons,” “fitness,” and “sports” are hits. And everything election-related has been big.
If you think about it, it makes sense. You are much more likely to put on a free fitness video in your living room, and work out, than you are to watch it on your phone. And cartoons are probably being watched by families together. These are fundamentally different from the YouTube videos you would watch on your phone.
The future of TV
That brings us to the question of whether YouTube’s living room app is, in any way, a competitor to traditional TV.
Ali says she personally doesn’t subscribe to a traditional cable package, but rather, she uses a few streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. She doesn’t feel like she misses out because she can get clips from the TV shows, such as John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” on her TV via YouTube.
YouTube isn’t likely to kill cable TV any time soon, even in conjunction with other streaming services. But here’s a statistic YouTube provided: “In the US, over half of 18-49 year-old YouTube users surveyed say they have watched YouTube videos on their television.” That’s a big chunk of people who are at least willing to try it, given YouTube’s massive user base.
And if you can grab news clips, sports clips, and clips from your favourite late-night show, that could fill in some areas that are missing in a cord-cutter diet that includes services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO for full episodes.
YouTube’s living room efforts might not replace cable, but perhaps they can smooth the way for people moving in the direction of cord-cutting.
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