Roku is urging its customers who subscribe to YouTube TV to prepare for dark days ahead as the company’s agreement with Google is set to expire this week, possibly resulting in the removal of YouTube TV from the platform. Roku’s carriage of the regular YouTube app will, at this point in time, not be affected by this dispute.
In a scathing statement, Roku is accusing Google of both “predatory” and “monopoly” behavior. According to Roku, 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.” Roku, according to their press release, is refusing YouTube’s efforts.
YouTube responded, “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.”
In a direct-to-users email about the subject, Roku takes a more accusatory tone: “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.”
The argument being made is that Google wishes to siphon data from viewers via their usage of Roku and then use said information to tip the scales in YouTube’s favor with regard to search engine results.
Roku also posits that Google might force the company to upgrade its equipment to Google’s specs for YouTube TV. That would force Roku to increase the price of its products, which competes directly with Google’s Chromecast. YouTube TV has offered a free Chromecast with Google TV to new YouTube TV customers, along with gifting it to existing ones.
Roku claims Google has asked the company to go beyond the treatment it receives on other streaming competitors’ platforms, like creating a dedicated search results row for YouTube within the Roku smart TV interface and giving YouTube search results more prominent placement.
Roku says Google forced it to block search results from other streaming providers while users are using the YouTube app on Roku’s system.
Roku alleges Google has asked it to favor 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.
Google is no stranger to being under the microscope with regard to its practices. Just last year it was the subject of a U.S. civil antitrust lawsuit seeking to stop the tech giant from “unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets.”
Not one to waste an opportunity to fire a few shots, Roku makes sure its users know this by saying “Google is already under fire from governments around the world for manipulating search results. It is outrageous that Google would now try to insist on manipulating Roku’s search results as well.”
In saying that “it should come as no surprise that Google is now demanding unfair and anti-competitive terms that harm Roku’s users,” Roku is clearly out to capitalize on the current scrutiny placed on the company.
Looking to position itself as the David to their Goliath, Roku’s statement goes on to say that they have not asked for “a single additional dollar in value” from YouTube, insisting that they are merely looking out for the data security of their users as opposed to financial enrichment.
However, this isn’t the only dispute that Roku has had with a Live TV Streaming Service, however. In December, Spectrum’s TV App was dropped from the Roku platform and has yet to return. Roku has also had disputes with NBCU, which was avoided at the last minute, which would have seen all of their TV Everywhere Apps removed. They also nearly saw Fox app removed from the platform ahead of last year’s Super Bowl.
With 51 million accounts in total as of the end of 2020, Roku knows the value of a presence on its service and has a reputation for its fiery negotiations entering into public view. While YouTube TV subscribers make up only a small portion of its user base, Roku’s importance with regard to reaching a streaming audience is not to be taken lightly. Roku, alongside Amazon Fire TV, is a leading streaming platform.
In closing its statement, Roku says that they “believe consumers stand to benefit from Google and Roku reaching a fair agreement that preserves consumers access to YouTube TV, protects user data and promotes a competitive, free and open marketplace. We are committed to trying to achieve that goal.”
This is the email Roku sent to its users this morning:
“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.