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How to fix YouTube TV playback errors

In some circumstances, patience is called for.
By
December 28, 2023

While YouTube TV has the weight of Google and its massive network infrastructure behind it, that doesn’t make it immune to technical problems, including occasional “playback errors” that stop streaming dead in its tracks. If you’re being impacted by one, here’s what’s probably going on, and what you can do about it.

How to fix YouTube TV playback errors

roku youtube tv
Roku

Typically most of the solutions used to fix general YouTube TV issues should apply here, but for convenience’s sake we’ll cover them again and put them in context. Some playback errors also require unique remedies, and we’ll be highlighting those as we go.

  • Doublecheck your internet connection. Needless to say, you can’t watch anything on YouTube TV if your internet access is weak or non-existent. If you’re on Wi-Fi or cellular (4G/5G) you’ll need a strong signal, especially if you’re streaming in 1080p or 4K. You might try switching from one connection type to the other if both are available. If you’re using a computer, smart TV, or media streamer, consider jacking into Ethernet if your device has an available port and your router is close by.
  • Test if you meet bandwidth requirements. Try a service like Speedtest to see if your connection is fast enough. YouTube TV requires at least 3Mbps, and you’ll probably want 5 to 7Mbps for a single 1080p stream. Demands increase with the number of simultaneous viewers, and even a single 4K stream will consume about 20Mbps.
  • Check YouTube TV’s server status. Like any online service, YouTube TV is vulnerable to network and server problems, and Google may sometimes need downtime to perform maintenance and upgrades. You can use sites like Downdetector to see if servers are operating normally. When they’re not, you’ll just have to be patient.
  • Test other available channels. Sometimes playback errors are limited to individual channels. This can happen due to trouble with Google’s infrastructure, the channel itself, or your current location (more on that later). In any of those scenarios there’s not much you can do except switch to another channel and try again later.
  • Pay up if the content demands it. If you see a playback error that states “This video requires payment to watch,” that could mean you’ve stumbled across a channel that requires one of YouTube TV’s paid add-on packages. Usually these are sports, Spanish-language, or other specialty channels, some examples being Cinemax, Starz, and Fight Network.
  • Check that you meet location requirements. When you sign up for YouTube TV you’re asked to share your home ZIP code, since the service is still US-only at the moment. You can only change your home address twice per year. When you travel to another part of the US you’ll only be able to stream that area’s content, not record it, and you won’t have access to your hometown’s unique channels, though DVR functions should still work. Outside the US you can’t watch YouTube TV at all, at least not without a VPN connected to a US server. On top of this you have to use the service in your home area once every 3 months to keep that location valid.
  • Check location permissions. As you’ve probably gathered, Google is very, very concerned with where you’re watching YouTube TV, since its broadcast and recording rights vary between US cities. Your device’s location data is used to verify where you are, so if you’ve blocked that, the service might not stream properly. On mobile devices, you may need to turn on location services and change app permissions.
  • Close the YouTube TV app and reopen it. Often, glitches with streaming apps are only temporary and can be fixed by relaunching them. If you’re watching via Android, iPhone, or iPad, force-quit the YouTube TV app and reopen it. If you’re watching via the web, you may only have to refresh the tab you’re using, but you can try relaunching your browser if you want to be sure. Where things get tricky is with smart TVs and media streamers like Chromecasts and Rokus, since it’s not always obvious how to close an app. On any device with Google TV, you can do this by going to Settings > Apps > YouTube TV and selecting Force stop.
  • Check for app or browser updates. Google regularly tweaks its apps to fix bug and performance issues, so if you haven’t updated in a while (or ever), check out our guides for updating Android and iPhone/iPad apps. Web viewers should try updating their browsers. On smart TVs and media streamers, apps usually update automatically, but you may be able to force an update using settings menus.
  • Clear out cookie and/or cache data. Temporary files can sometimes get corrupted and cause a multitude of woes. Android users can clear out the YouTube TV app cache, while web viewers can scrub their browser’s cookies and cache. There’s no equivalent of this for iPhones, iPads, or smart TVs and media streamers.
  • Restart your device. Sometimes there may be a temporary glitch at the operating system level, in which case rebooting your device may be in order. This is an area where TVs and media streamers have an advantage — while they do often have software restart options, you can accomplish the same thing by unplugging them, waiting about 10 seconds, then plugging them back in. If you have a remote, use that instead.