On the one hand, asking how many subscribers YouTube TV has is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. At least, not to the general public. If you’re sitting in front of the TV, it doesn’t matter if YouTube TV still has “more than 3 million paid subscribers” — the most recent figures provided on October 29 — or not.
Is that correct?
There’s a case to be made that the number of paid subscribers on YouTube TV has had a direct impact on the state of the streaming world.
Each quarter, Hulu With Live TV releases subscriber numbers as part of parent company Disney’s earnings report. According to the most recent figures, Hulu With Live TV had 3.7 million subscribers as of July 3, up 9 percent from the same time last year. The following update will be on November 10th.
It’s been a year since YouTube TV released any kind of subscriber data. Never mind that the information it released a year ago was, at best, hazy, and that the service received no mention in the company’s third-quarter earnings call on October 26. You’d think that if YouTube TV had more subscribers than Hulu With Live TV, we’d have heard something about it by now. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Hulu With Live TV has experienced three consecutive quarters of slow but steady decline, falling from a high of 4.1 million paid subscriptions in the fourth quarter of 2020 to the most recent figures. To be clear, this is only a 9.7 percent decrease. However, there is still a decline — and a public one at that.
Hulu With Live TV isn’t alone in this regard. DirecTV Stream’s public decline has been more severe, and arguably even more public, due to the fact that it has changed names several times (from DirecTV Now to AT&T TV Now to AT&T TV, and now to its current form) and has also been spun-off from former parent company AT&T. It’s also lost 64% of its 1.84 million paid subscribers since the third quarter of 2018, with 656,000 subs remaining in the fourth quarter of 2020, when it became meaningless to track due to corporate changes.
So what does it matter if YouTube TV is bigger than Hulu with live TV? When you consider the recent (and repeated) squabble between YouTube TV and Roku, it’s easy to see how this could come into play.
Consider the following: Does YouTube TV require Roku more than Roku requires YouTube TV? That may be a more difficult question to answer than you think. And it’s now complicated by the fact that we’re talking about the entire YouTube app, not just YouTube TV, being removed from Roku on December 9. (As a reminder, the only way to watch YouTube TV on Roku right now is through the existing YouTube app, as a result of the war’s start in the spring of 2021.)
On the one hand, you have what is likely the No. 2 livestreaming service in the United States no longer available for new Roku downloads, not to mention YouTube itself disappearing. That last part is, without a doubt, more important in the grand scheme of things.
And, as Roku is painfully aware, replacing a Roku device with a competitor’s device isn’t all that difficult — or expensive. Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Google TV’s prices are comparable to those of Roku. Those who are willing to spend more money can improve their experience with Apple TV or a high-end Android TV box. All of those options include access to YouTube and YouTube TV. (Though, to be fair, Amazon Fire TV wasn’t always this way.)
On the other hand, it’s relatively simple to switch from YouTube TV to Hulu With TV, Sling TV, or one of the other competitors. You will not receive the exact same channels, features, or experience. But for many people, it will suffice.
So it’s possible that it’s all a matter of convenience. Is it simpler to switch streaming services? Or perhaps hardware?
None of this, however, addresses the question of who requires whom the most. It’s really that simple. Alphabet (the parent company of Google, YouTube, and other companies) just announced a third-quarter revenue of more than $65 billion, a 41 percent increase year over year. It has a cash reserve of $23 billion. Roku reported $532 million in revenue for the second quarter, with $1 billion in cash on hand.
Even though we don’t know how many subscribers YouTube TV has, the math is simple.