Two (or four) is better than one: Building multiview on YouTube TV
Welcome to the latest installment of our Innovation Series, a behind-the-scenes look at how the YouTube features find their way to your screen, as told by the people who create them.
YouTube TV is home for sports fans and we want to ensure that we offer our members the best sports viewing experience on TV. Over the years, we’ve added features and partnerships that help bring viewers into their favorite games — like key plays, fantasy view, 4K streaming and soon, NFL Sunday Ticket. And now, just in time for March Madness, we’re launching early access for the ability for fans to watch multiple streams at once.
Just in time for March Madness, we’re launching early access for the ability for fans to watch multiple streams at once.
During early access, some members will begin to see an option to watch up to four pre-selected, different streams at once in their “Top Picks for You” section. After selecting multiview, viewers will be able to switch audio and captions between streams, and jump in and out of a fullscreen view of a game. Multiview joins our suite of features for sports fans and we’re looking forward to continuing to improve the experience and introducing it to all YouTube TV subscribers over the next several months.
We’ve been thinking about how to deliver this particular feature for some time. Typically, multiviewing requires a high-powered device, which means it is often limited to users who have specific equipment.
When building this feature, our goal was to ensure that it is accessible to users across all TV devices, regardless of their equipment, but to do that we needed to rethink how the technology works in the first place.
To learn more about how the multiview feature works, we sat down with German Cheung, the engineering lead for the YouTube TV core experience team, and it turns out the solution is a little bit of recycling.
We moved the processing requirements to happen on YouTube’s servers. This allows all subscribers to use the feature, regardless of their home equipment, because when it's streamed to them, their device sees only one live feed, instead of two or four. ” German Cheung Engineering lead, YouTube TV
First, can you tell us more about what’s different about multiview streaming on YouTube TV?
German Cheung: Typically, when you think about a multiview experience, from a technical perspective, it requires a high-end user device to process and playback multiple streams at once and show them as one cohesive view on the screen. But the great thing about YouTube TV is that it doesn’t require any high-powered equipment, so we had to get creative in how we brought this to life.
In the absence of relying on end user devices, we moved the processing requirements to happen on our side, on YouTube’s servers. This allows all subscribers to use the feature, regardless of their home equipment, because when it's streamed to them, their device sees only one live feed, instead of two or four.
So how did the team start developing this stream-stitch technology?
German Cheung: One of the great things about being part of the engineering org is helping to connect the dots. Turns out, the Live team had already built a really powerful compositor to enable creators to go live together on YouTube and we had a lot of the tech required to build this great new feature for YouTube TV.
Instead of building something totally new from scratch, we could use what the Live team had already created and make adjustments from there for the YouTube TV platform and bring the feature to market faster.
On the flip side, it also brings new opportunities to make the live experience even better for creators, opening the door for new features like adding commentary to videos.
Have we re-used technology in this way for other YouTube features?
German Cheung: This happens more than you think across our teams and it’s always interesting to see how we can reuse the tech we’ve already built to create an even better experience on YouTube.
Some aren’t as obvious as the one we just talked about — for example, our content ID system scans YouTube videos and finds matches with video and audio submitted by copyright owners. Our teams found that we could use the same technology to make our recommendations even better by using what had already been built to make sure we don’t recommend the same, or similar, videos to a viewer.
What can viewers expect now and down the road with multiview on YouTube TV?
German Cheung: We’re introducing multiview gradually and collecting feedback from subscribers along the way. These insights will help inform the experience as we get closer to the NFL football season kicking off this fall. Over time, we’ll refine and add more functionality to multiview, including the option to customize your own multiview streams. And, as you might have already guessed, we’re looking to bring this multiview experience to the main YouTube app across TVs later this year.
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