Another month, another dispute between streaming services and streaming hardware manufacturers. This time it’s between Roku and Google over the presence of YouTube TV and YouTube app on Roku devices. It looks like the agreement between the two companies is up for renewal shortly and negotiations “have broken down,” according to an email Roku sent to its customers in hopes of garnering support that they can leverage against Google.
Unlike most of these disputes between services and platforms, which usually have to do with sharing advertising revenue, this time it is not about money, but about software and hardware features. Roku is not being specific about what Google is asking of them and is instead using, in my opinion, vague scary-sounding phrases like “manipulate your search results” to describe Google’s requests.
To me, it sounds like this is simply about Google wanting voice searches done while the YouTube app is open to search within the YouTube app, instead of the device’s universal search. It also sounds like Google wants future Roku devices to support the royalty-free AV1 video codec, which Google, Amazon, and Netflix have been backing. Notably, Fire TV devices already achieve what Google is asking of Roku.
If Google and Roku don’t reach an agreement soon, it appears that the YouTube TV app will disappear from all Roku devices. There has been no mention of the YouTube app disappearing, but that app may be on a different contract schedule so it may be up for removal in the future if the dispute lasts long enough. Below are the official statements from each company.
Email from Roku to customers:
“Dear Roku Customer,
We are sending this email to update you on the possibility that Google may take away your access to the YouTube TV channel on Roku. Recent negotiations with Google to carry YouTube TV have broken down because Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms as we believe they could harm our users.
Ensuring a great streaming experience at an exceptional value is the core of our business. We will always stand up for our users, which is why we cannot accept Google’s unfair and anticompetitive requirements to manipulate your search results, impact the usage of your data and ultimately cost you more.
While we are deeply disappointed in Google’s decision to use their monopoly power to try and force terms that will directly harm streamers, we remain committed to reaching an agreement with Google that preserves your access to YouTube TV, protects your data and ensures a level playing field for companies to compete. We encourage you to contact Google and urge them to reach an agreement to continue offering YouTube TV on Roku and to follow standard industry practices pledging not to require access to sensitive search data or to manipulate your search results.
Thank you, Roku”
Statement from Google to Press:
“We have been working with Roku in good faith to reach an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers. Unfortunately, Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations. We’re disappointed that they chose to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations. All of our work with them has been focused on ensuring a high-quality and consistent experience for our viewers. We have made no requests to access user data or interfere with search results. We hope we can resolve this for the sake of our mutual users.”