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YouTube freshens its TV look, starting with Xbox One

Google's massive video site tweaks its app for televisions to make it quicker to get to your subscribed channels and recommendations, rolling out the update to Xbox One first.

Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

YouTube -- home to about 2.89 million makeover videos -- just gave its TV look a makeover of its own.

Google's massive video site updated its TV app Thursday, simplifying the steps for a viewer to get to the most relevant videos -- subscribed and recommended ones -- and bringing the TV interface in line with how YouTube's layout looks on a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

YouTube, for all its makeover clips and cat videos, is sometimes easy to forget as one of the most powerful media platforms on the planet. It is the leading source of Internet traffic in the world, according to researcher Sandvine, and attracts more than a billion unique visitors a month, watching more than 6 billion hours of video.

Meanwhile, TVs are surging as a screen choice for Internet-based video. Tracking the types of devices that fired up an online video in January, Adobe found that gaming consoles and "over-the-top" boxes, such as Rokus and Apple TV, had the greatest growth of any category, posting a 123 percent increase.

Consider YouTube's massive reach, and that's a lot of cat-video viewing in the living room.

Signing in to add new channel subscriptions takes a few steps, though. To add a subscription for the first time, users must activate their YouTube account on the app, which requires leaving the app to enter a browser and plugging in a randomized code.

The update starts with Xbox One and will roll out to other streaming devices in the following weeks, according to a blog post from the company.

The latest update from YouTube pales in comparison to one rolled out last year by Netflix, the other main culprit in gobbling up much of the Internet's peak traffic. Netflix dedicated two years to re-create an interface specifically for bigger screens, one that's heavier on images and provides more informative descriptions and personalized details about why Netflix is suggesting a particular title.


With the app update, subscribed channels and recommendations will appear in a "What to Watch" section on a guide on the left side of the TV screen. The update also adds channel pages that populate with new playlists from YouTube creators.

But because Netflix's catalog -- unlike YouTube -- skews dramatically toward professional production meant to be watched on larger screens, and the fact the majority of all Netflix viewing hours occur on a television, the company faces more demanding video-quality expectations from its users.

UPDATED on Aug. 16 at 5:25 am PT: With steps required to add a new subscription in the updated app.