YouTube TV touts casting workaround as its app is purged from Roku's store

The battle between YouTube TV and Roku turned up a notch Friday, when Roku removed YouTube TV's app from its channel store after the two sides failed to strike a new deal.

"We are disappointed that Google has allowed our agreement for the distribution of YouTube TV to expire. Roku has not asked for one dollar of additional financial consideration from Google to renew YouTube TV," Roku said in a statement.

Although new YouTube TV users currently cannot get the app on the Roku store, Roku is allowing existing YouTube TV users to maintain access to YouTube TV on its platform, so those users are unaffected. "It is also important that you do not delete the YouTube TV app as it will not be available for download to Roku devices," Roku explained in a message to users who have already installed the YouTube TV app.

New YouTube TV subscribers that rely on Roku devices aren't without options. Google's OTT-TV service, which had more than 3 million subs at last count, is directing customers to a page showing them how they can cast the YouTube TV service to the TV via their mobile devices.

Both sides have issued warnings that the YouTube TV app could disappear from Roku's channel store if a new deal is not reached.

Linked to the dispute, Roku has claimed Google made demands that are "anti-competitive and discriminatory," with Axios reporting that Google wants Roku to create dedicated search results for YouTube on Roku's interface, 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.

Google countered that those claims are hogwash, holding that it had been working in "good faith" to forge a new deal, and that it has made no requests to access user data or interfere with search results.

In a letter to customers on Friday (April 30) outlining the situation along with remedies and recommendations about how to encourage Roku to restore the app, YouTube TV wrote: "We continue to offer Roku the opportunity to renew the YouTube TV deal under the existing, reasonable terms."

AV1 codec connected to the conflict

According to Protocol, the stalemate also stems from Google's desire to push hardware makers to adopt the AV1 codec, an open source platform that counts Google, Netflix, Intel, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft among its backers. Roku claims that such requirements will raise the price of its streaming products, the report added.

Google countered that support for open codecs is necessary to future-proof devices for video streams delivered in higher resolutions, and that a lack of that support stands to "break the YouTube experience."

"Roku requested exceptions that would break the YouTube experience and limit our ability to update YouTube in order to fix issues or add new features. For example, by not supporting open-source video codecs, you wouldn't be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if you bought a Roku device that supports that resolution," Google told the online publication.

Power plays

The impasse highlights the power games underway in a streaming market that is pitting streaming services against major streaming platform providers. In this case between Roku and YouTube TV, those lines are blurred – Roku is also getting more heavily into the content game, including plans to expand into original content that helps to fuel its advertising efforts; YouTube TV, meanwhile, is connected to a company that owns and operates a streaming platform that competes directly with Roku's.

Roku is walking a fine line. With a base of about 51.2 million active accounts, Roku has negotiation leverage. However, heavy-handed moves that remove content may upset a Roku user base that has multiple streaming options at its fingertips, including relatively cheap devices from Amazon (Fire TV) or Google (Android TV/Google TV), or the somewhat kluge casting workaround. More of these battles could tempt a portion of Roku users to change platforms.

Roku has found itself on this tightrope with increasing frequency as deals expire or come up for renewal – it has fought several similar battles recently with NBCU's Peacock, WarnerMedia's HBO Max and even Charter Communications.

These battles might also encourage a company like Comcast to accelerate app integrations for Flex, its streaming platform for broadband-only subscribers that already supports several major streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu (SVoD only), Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max and Dish Network-owned Sling TV.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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