Google itself is becoming a feature, and it's what will make YouTube TV successful.
Responses to Google's latest attempt to woo cable cutters with a YouTube-based streaming television service have been mixed, and for good reasons. Switching to a hardware approach turned out to be wildly successful, in fact the Google Cast API is the closest thing to an industry standard you can have today. But the real money is in services, especially a monthly subscription that keeps the flow of behavioral data flowing into Google's servers.
YouTube TV is entering a market where three fierce competitors not only exist, but are delivering decent experiences. In order to make a dent in this space, YouTube is going to have to make it clear that Google itself is the feature people are buying. More importantly, its going to have to prove this killer feature is something the existing companies can't offer.
Every software effort Google has made in the past to attract people that are only using the internet to watch TV, a list which includes Google TV and YouTube Red as bookends, have either failed or never materialized. The biggest reason for these failures so far have been a failure to compensate for the rigid television industry. Google TV tried to turn streaming websites into apps for your living room before those companies were ready to do so. Innovation in this industry doesn't happen until content licenses are adjusted to very clearly state how that content can be used. Google tried to bypass those contracts with a clever technicality, and it backfired.
YouTube TV has a lot to prove, and a short time period to prove it.
YouTube TV is the exact opposite. This service is playing by all of the rules, which means Google needs to rely on more than just "hey, no one else is doing this well" to be successful. Fortunately, YouTube itself already does this really well in an abstract sort of way. The big things that make YouTube successful are storage, search (and, by extension, recommendations), and stability. These are the same features that make almost every Google service worth using. These are the Google features, and it's not hard to see how they'll be used to make YouTube TV stand out.
Unlimited "Cloud DVR" storage on your account, with recordings stored for up to nine months, is a huge way to compete with Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue. Currently, PlayStation Vue is the only service offering Cloud DVR, and only for 28 days. Sling TV is offering a beta version of Cloud DVR right now, and in this early test there's a 100GB limit with features to delete your oldest recordings when you are close to your limit. YouTube TV can compete easily in this space, and it'll cause the competition to match this feature over time.
Search and recommendations are going to be hugely important for YouTube TV to get right early, and the initial demos Google is offering of the service seem promising. Users will be able to search not only names of shows and actors, but also themes and genres. You can search for any show using time travel as a theme, and be set to receive recommendations when something new hits that list. Like any other Google service, your usage patterns will inform future offerings.
Stability may be the biggest feature for attracting existing cable cutters and informing anyone on the fence about removing cable from the house. YouTube is already great at delivering consistently good video at the best possible quality based on your internet connection, and has a proven record of success with live streaming events on YouTube itself. Applying that quality of service and stability to broadcast television will make it clear YouTube TV is able to offer a level of consistency the competition in this space frequently lacks.
While this matters somewhat less on the scale Google wants to reach with YouTube TV, integration with its own services is a big deal as well. YouTube TV is expected to launch with support for up to six family members per account, and will work out of the box with Google Home, Google Chromecast, and of course Android TV. YouTube TV has the potential to remind you with a notification when the next season of a show your friend emailed you about is going to start, or allow you to say "OK Google, record tonight's episode of Chopped" without ever opening the app. That level of integration is unique, and something Google's is well positioned to offer with YouTube TV.
YouTube TV has a lot to prove, and a short time period to prove it. This isn't the cheapest service available, it's not going to offer the most channels, and at least for now it doesn't come pre-loaded on anything you connect to your television. YouTube TV will have to start strong and wield its Google features effectively in order to secure a permanent place in this new market, and so far it looks like all of the pieces are in place to do exactly that.