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YouTube Aims to Launch Live TV Service by 2017

Google-owned YouTube wants to get in on the skinny bundle game: YouTube is in conversations with programmers to launch some kind of live TV subscription service by next year, Variety was able to confirm Wednesday after talking to a source familiar with these efforts. Bloomberg first reported on YouTube’s plans earlier Wednesday; a YouTube spokesperson declined to comment.

The service is reportedly going to be called “Unplugged,” and YouTube aims to keep the costs for a cable TV-like bundle below $35. However, YouTube apparently hasn’t sealed any deals yet, and also hasn’t settled on a final model for its subscription service.

Some options include a more comprehensive bundle which would include the four big broadcasters as well as a handful of more popular cable channels. This would essentially mirror what Sony is offering subscribers of its Playstation Vue service.

Another option would include smaller bundles of cable channels around themes like comedy or lifestyle, something that’s closer to what Dish is selling consumers through its Sling TV service.

Google has been looking at different options to launch an online subscription service for years. However, there seems to be renewed interest the project thanks to shifts in the TV marketplace. Networks long resisted the idea of smaller bundles, but have recently warmed up to the concept to protect their value against pure online players like Netflix.

In addition to Playstation Vue and Sling TV, there are a number of other companies aiming to launch online subscription services that would carry some traditional networks. Hulu confirmed Wednesday that it wants to launch its own pay TV service next year, and a number of smaller players is looking to launch their own services in the coming months. Apple, Amazon and others have repeatedly looked into options to add live TV to their own products and platforms as well.

For Google, adding live TV would be another way to add subscription revenue at a time when competitors like Facebook and Snapchat are rapidly growing their own video platforms with the goal of stealing away ad dollars from YouTube.

The video site launched its own subscription service YouTube Red focused on ad-free viewing and exclusive content from homegrown talent last year. The company hasn’t released any metrics on Red yet, but Google CEO Sundar Pichai claimed during last week’s earnings call that Red was “very well received.”

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