Coming Soon: Live Pay-Per-View Programming on YouTube

To celebrate the first birthday of YouTube Live yesterday, Google announced that video creators can now monetize live events streaming on YouTube, either with ads or paid streaming. YouTube also made the Wirecast software free for partners, giving stream hosts the ability to do professional-quality live production. Television networks should be worried - but only if Google can work its way into the living room.

YouTube has already demonstrated its potential to eclipse TV. In January, it hosted a live Google+ Hangout with President Obama and five everyday people. The social aspect added a degree of interactivity that television can't easily provide. Plus, it's much easier to attract attention to a live event when the channel itself can be shared directly on social networks.

When prerecorded videos are included, YouTube's eclipse of television is no exaggeration. YouTube serves more than 4 billion videos every day. It has double the daily prime-time audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined. The viewers are watching millions of different videos rather than the same few shows, but that's telling. There's a vastly bigger viewing audience online, where viewers control the programming.

The Missing Piece

YouTube has a massive opportunity to disrupt TV, but it has one critical obstacle: It's not in people's living rooms. Just about all smart TV boxes can view YouTube videos from the Web, but that's not the same as a full-fledged YouTube app that includes this new kind of live programming.

Google updated the YouTube app for Google TV in February to bring YouTube's new channel-based redesign to the set-top box. YouTube's new channels let users organize their own favorite topics and subscribe to publisher channels. As live YouTube programming takes off, this could transform the way we watch video.

The problem is that Google TV boxes are failing to fly. Google CEO Eric Schmidt promised that "by the summer of 2012, the majority of televisions you see in stores will have Google TV embedded in it." Time is running out on that promise.

Google has tested the pay-per-view option with publishers like Ultimate Fighting Championship, but now all YouTube Live publishers in Canada, Japan, France, the U.S. and the U.K. have the option.

Much like Google+ Hangouts On Air, YouTube Live is still only available to select partners. These live, streaming video services place massive demands on Google's infrastructure, and they have to be scaled up carefully. But the idea that anyone can produce a professional-quality live video stream is astonishing, even in beta.