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Battle brews between Roku and YouTube TV

In the latest high-profile skirmish between Roku and a video streaming provider, Roku has warned users that YouTube TV may soon be removed from its platform over claims that Google's demands are "anti-competitive and discriminatory."

In a letter to Roku users spotted by Axios, Roku warned that the breakdown in negotiations could force the OTT-TV service off of its streaming platform.

A dispute could take YouTube TV off of Roku's streaming platform, which ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts.  
(Image source: Roku Channel Store)
A dispute could take YouTube TV off of Roku's streaming platform, which ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts.
(Image source: Roku Channel Store)

Roku's letter did not go into great detail on the specific issue at hand, but it argued that the issue stems from Google wanting to "manipulate your search results."

But, according to Axios, Google wants Roku to create dedicated search results for YouTube on Roku's smart TV interface, to block search results from other streaming content providers while viewers are using the YouTube app on Roku's platform, and to favor YouTube music results from voice commands made via the Roku remote when the YouTube app is open.

"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," Roku explained in the letter. "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 ... 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."

Roku has been asked to comment on when YouTube TV might come off its platform if a new deal is not reached, and if such a move would also impact Roku users who have already downloaded the YouTube TV app. Google has been asked for comment as well.

Update: Google said it is working in "good faith" to strike a new deal while also disputing Roku's claims.

"We have been working with Roku in good faith to reach an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers," a YouTube TV spokesperson said in a statement. "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."

Losing Roku, a platform that ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts, would limit Google's ability to distribute YouTube TV, a virtual multichannel video programming distributor with more than 3 million subscribers.

The dustup is the latest for Roku, which is currently at an impasse with Charter Communications that has resulted in the blocking of the cable operator's Spectrum TV app on the Roku platform. Roku has also had temporary battles with WarnerMedia (for HBO Max), AT&T (for AT&T TV), NBCUniversal (for Peacock) and with Fox (for the access to Fox's free, live streaming feeds of Super Bowl LIV).

A big difference this time around is that Roku and Google compete directly in the streaming platform arena. While Roku makes and sells its own streaming players along with a string of deals to integrate its operating system on certain smart TVs, Google is also targeting both the streaming player and smart TV segment with Android TV and its new Google TV offering.

Removing YouTube TV from Roku's platform could lead to other wrinkles, affecting YouTube TV's distribution/marketing partnerships with Verizon, WideOpenWest and other telcos and cable operators.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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