Roku-Google Fight Could Leave Roku Users Without YouTube TV

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Uh oh, here we go again. It looks like Roku is once again embroiled in a dispute with one of the streaming services on its platform, and this time it could result in the YouTube TV app being pulled from Roku’s devices.

Roku and Google are at odds over the terms of their agreement, which expires soon, according to a report from Axios. The disagreement is so severe, Roku felt it necessary to send an email to its customers warning them of the possible fallout should a deal fail to materialize.

“We are sending you this email to update you on the possibility that Google may take away your access to the YouTube TV channel on Roku,” says the email which Axios included in its report. The letter to its customers goes on to say that Google’s new terms are unfair and could “harm users.”

Digital Trends reached out to Google for its perspective on this report, but we had not heard back by the time we published this post.

At the core of the disagreement are several demands from Google that Roku feels are anticompetitive. Roku claims that Google requires that:

  • Roku must create a dedicated search results row for YouTube within the Roku interface and give YouTube search results more prominent placement.
  • Roku must block search results from other streaming content providers while users are using the YouTube app on Roku’s system.
  • Roku favors YouTube music results from voice commands made on the Roku remote while the YouTube app is open, even if the user’s music preference is set to default to another music app, like Pandora.

A possible further stipulation, according to the report, is that Roku must use certain chipsets or memory cards that would result in increased prices for its hardware. Now that Google sells its Chromecast with Google TV for $50, a price that undercuts all but two of Roku’s products (the Roku Express and Express 4K), this could, in theory, wipe out the price advantage that Roku enjoys on its least expensive devices.

“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anti-competitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson told Axios.

This isn’t the first time that Roku has experienced contractual friction with one of its streaming service partners. Over the past few years, the company has had disputes with HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, and in 2020 it had to craft a last-minute deal with Fox in order to give its users a way to stream the 2020 Super Bowl.

We’ve pointed out that these disputes likely helped Amazon’s Fire TV platform achieve big growth in 2019 and 2020, stealing market share from Roku.

Earlier this year, Roku acquired the rights to now-defunct Quibi’s content, which Roku has renamed Roku Originals.

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