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YouTube is breaking into pay TV, starting with Dish

Dish is the first major US pay-TV company letting customers search and play anything from YouTube on its set-top box, the souped-up DVR Hopper 3.

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Dish Hopper

Sarah Tew/CNET

Dish debuted the YouTube app on its Hopper 3 DVR late Thursday, becoming the first major pay-TV company in the US to enable videos from the massive site to play through its set-top box alongside traditional TV.

Practically speaking, this means Dish customers can search, browse and play YouTube videos without switching inputs and devices.

But symbolically, the move puts YouTube's content on a level playing field with "real TV." Google's YouTube, by far the most-popular video site on the internet, has helped give rise to new categories of video entertainment, such as gaming, vlogs and digital stars so closely linked to the platform that they're known as YouTubers. The company's foundation as a user-upload site had led some to dismiss its stars and viral clips as low-quality entertainment versus "premium" TV programming. In other words, YouTube is empty-calorie snacking compared with the full-fledged meals of real TV.

With YouTube now at greater parity with regular television programming on Dish's box, pay-TV customers can decide for the first time if YouTube is actually "premium" for them, too.

The YouTube app was included in the satellite TV company's latest software update pushed to Hopper 3 set-top boxes on Thursday night. YouTube joins other apps on Hopper such as Netflix, Pandora and Vevo.