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YouTube TV launches early access to a 'multiview' feature for watching four streams at once

YouTube TV is today announcing a new feature that may help the live TV service attract more subscribers -- and particularly those who like to watch live sports. The company says it's launching early access to "multiview," an option that allows viewers to watch up to four different preselected streams at the same time. Initially, only select users in the U.S. will gain access to multiview on TV devices, YouTube notes.

The company was rumored to be working on multiview last August when it was then being referred to as "Mosaic Mode." Though not practical for watching typical TV programs, the feature would be useful to sports fans who want to watch multiple games and keep up with scores without having to constantly change channels. To date, some traditional TVs have offered a picture-in-picture mode to address this problem but YouTube TV's digital platform now allows for even more concurrent streams.

At launch, YouTube TV says multiview is only being offered on sports content, so watching your usual programs or the news alongside the games isn't an option. However, the company says it's "exploring" different ways for members to use its features across the variety of content it offers.

To use the feature, subscribers will select the new multiview option, if available, from their "Top Picks for You" section in the YouTube TV app on their television. (Subscribers will also receive an email and see an alert if they've been opted in.)

After enabling the feature, they'll be able to switch audio and captions between streams, as well as jump in and out of a fullscreen view of a game, YouTube says.

To bring the feature to life, the company had to get creative with its use of technology. Typically, a multiview experience would rely on a high-end user device to process and play back multiple streams at once, then show them as one cohesive view, the company explained in a blog post. But YouTube TV doesn't require high-end equipment to run, which meant it had to find a way to do more of the processing on the server side instead.

What's interesting is that the company was able to repurpose technology the YouTube Live team had already built to enable multiple creators to go live together. This allowed it to bring the feature to market faster. Plus, YouTube says that multiview could present new opportunities for creators in the future -- like being able to add their own commentary to videos, for example.

The company says this slower rollout of multiview will allow the company to collect feedback from subscribers before it becomes more broadly available, hopefully by NFL football season later this fall. Over time, YouTube will also add more functionality to multiview, including the option to customize your own multiview streams. It plans to expand multiview to the main YouTube app, as well.

Multiview is the latest in a line of new features and technologies YouTube TV has rolled out in an effort to appeal to sports fans, including key plays, fantasy view (for viewing your fantasy sports teams) and 4K streaming.

Most recently, it announced a landmark streaming deal with NFL Sunday Ticket, which has previously only been available through DirecTV in the U.S. The multi-year deal is worth $2 billion per season, reports said. That will likely help YouTube TV attract more sports fans than a four-up stream would do. But combined, the sports-friendly options could make for a compelling offering compared with rivals, like Hulu Live TV.