I have a playlist of music videos I like on YouTube. The ability to add videos to playlists on YouTube is convenient, I can access them from anywhere, a lot of them have officially uploaded versions at decent quality, and generally I have little trouble keeping track of the stuff I like.
Then it comes time to watch the videos. And this is where things start to go wrong.
What I Want
When I want to watch the music videos, here is what I am hoping will happen: I can hit a button and it will create a random order in which to play the videos. It won’t repeat any until it’s played all of them once. Whether it repeats at that point or stops entirely isn’t super important to me– I have enough videos in the playlist that I am unlikely to watch them all in one sitting. I’d like it to be easy to skip to the next video if one comes up and I’m not feeling it. Bonus points if I can look ahead at the order of the videos it’s going to play and remove videos from the queue without it removing them from the playlist.
What I Get
Chaos. Because, first, I should tell you: what you get differs depending on which platform you’re using YouTube from. Their native apps behave differently from each other and from their website. Not a great start!
In the web browser
There’s a prominent “shuffle playlist” button at the top of playlists. When you click it, it brings you to a fairly standard video player page with the playlist showing in the order it is sorted (so there’s no way to see what will play next). As you play a shuffled playlist in the web browser, you will notice that it repeats videos. Pretty regularly! As a test, I queued up a playlist with 450 videos in it and in the first 30 videos, saw one video six times and a few others two or three times. The repetition doesn’t seem to come any more or less frequently depending on whether you let the videos play continuously or hit the “next” button repeatedly.
On the AppleTV and PS4
There is no way to shuffle a playlist in the native app that now runs on many platforms, including the PS4 and the newest version of the AppleTV’s app. The functionality just doesn’t exist.
Okay, now we’re talking. When you hit the shuffle button on a playlist, you get loaded into a new playlist view which is a sort of temporary queue. The full contents of the original playlist are present here, placed in a random order, and will play from top to bottom in that new random order. You can skip tracks, delete them from the queue before they play, and so forth. Pretty much everything about this method seems to work as expected!
On the AppleTV via iOS “Connect to TV”
There’s a special button that looks like a TV screen with a wifi logo in the corner that shows up in the iOS app when you have the Youtube app open on a device like the AppleTV, PS4 or even many smart TVs. You can “connect” to the device and then control it from the iOS app, giving you access to special features like queueing videos. What happens when you connect the iOS app to one of these, and then hit the “shuffle playlist” button? It creates the temporary queue with all of the videos in the playlist in it, but they’re in the same order as the original playlist. It then picks a random video in the playlist to start playing, skipping to that point in the queue. Using the “next video” button will play the next video in the playlist, as if you had never shuffled anything.
On the AppleTV via iOS Airplay
If you click on the special Connect button in the iOS app and then choose the option for “Airplay and Bluetooth Devices”, then choose your AppleTV, then wrestle with getting YouTube and Airplay to work (which has always involved a couple attempts of turning airplay on and off), you can eventually get Airplay working, then go to a playlist and hit the shuffle button. This will give you all the features of the iOS app’s shuffle playlist play with the ability to see them on your TV. It’s the most finicky to set up, but finally, it does everything I want.
It’s so annoying, and there are so many more important things that YouTube should be focusing on like paying the people who make their platform valuable, but the fact that every platform does it differently is somehow more annoying to me than if they just didn’t offer the functionality at all. Someone at the company seems to understand what a real-world use case for this feature looks like, but there’s no coordination to make it happen that way, or any other way, across the company.