On one hand, asking how many subscribers YouTube TV has doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. At least, not to consumers. Whether YouTube TV still has “more than 3 million paid subscribers” — the most up-to-date numbers given on October 29 — or not doesn’t really matter if you’re sitting in front of the TV.
Or does it? There’s an argument to be made that the number of paid subscribers that YouTube TV has directly affected the state of the streaming world.
Some context is required here. Hulu With Live TV puts forth subscriber numbers publicly each quarter as part of parent company Disney’s earnings report. The most recent numbers, for the three months ending on July 3, showed Hulu With Live TV at 3.7 million subscribers, up 9% from that point a year prior. The next update will be on November 10.
It’s now been a year since YouTube TV last released any sort of subscriber numbers. Never mind that what it put out a year ago was, at best, vague and that the service got nary a mention in the company’s third-quarter earnings call on October 26. You’d have to suspect that if YouTube TV had more subscribers than Hulu With Live TV, we’d have heard the company crow about it by now. Adding a little more intrigue to the mix is that Hulu With Live TV actually has seen three straight quarters of slow but steady decline, dropping from a height of 4.1 million paid subscriptions in the fourth quarter of 2020 down to the most recent numbers. To be clear, that’s only a drop of about 9.7%. But it’s still a decline — and a public one at that.
Hulu With Live TV isn’t alone here, either. DirecTV Stream’s public decline has been more severe and arguably even more public given that it’s changed names a few times (from DirecTV Now to AT&T TV Now to AT&T TV, and now to its current form) and also spun-off from former parent company AT&T. It’s also lost some 64% of its 1.84 million paid subscribers since the third quarter of 2018 and last stood at 656,000 subs in the fourth quarter of 2020, at which point, amidst the corporate shifts, it became worthless to track.
Why does it matter, then, whether YouTube TV is bigger than Hulu With live TV? It very much could come into play when you think about the recent (and repeated) dust-up between YouTube TV and Roku.
Ask yourself the following question: Does YouTube TV need Roku more than Roku needs YouTube TV? That’s perhaps a tougher question to answer than you might think. And it’s also now complicated by the fact that we’re actually talking about the full YouTube app no longer being available on Roku come December 9 and not just YouTube TV. (As a reminder, the only way you can currently watch YouTube TV on Roku is from within the existing YouTube app, fallout from the start of this war in the spring of 2021.)
On one hand, you have what probably is the No. 2 livestreaming service in the United States no longer being available for new downloads on Roku, to say nothing of YouTube itself disappearing. That last part is more important in the scheme of things, for sure.
And as Roku is painfully aware, it’s not all that hard — or expensive — to replace a Roku device with a competitor’s. Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast With Google TV are right in line with the Roku price point. Those willing to spend more can upgrade their experience with Apple TV or a high-end Android TV box. And all of those options have access to YouTube and YouTube TV. (Though to be fair, that wasn’t always the case for Amazon Fire TV.)
On the other hand, it’s also pretty easy to swap YouTube TV for Hulu With TV, Sling TV, or one of the other competitors. You won’t get exactly the same channels, features, or experience. But for a lot of folks, it’ll be good enough.
So perhaps it really comes down to a matter of convenience. Is it easier to change streaming services? Or hardware?
None of that actually answers the question, though, of who needs who more. It’s simple, really. Alphabet (aka Google and YouTube and the like) just announced more than $65 billion in revenue for the third quarter, a 41% increase year over year. It has $23 billion in cash. Roku had $532 million in revenue for Q2, with $1 billion cash on hand.
That math isn’t hard to do, even if we don’t know exactly how many subscribers YouTube TV has.