YouTube TV is supposed to bring the best parts of cable TV to streaming, but it also brings with it one of the most annoying parts: carriage disputes.
Roku and Google are apparently fighting over the terms for carrying YouTube TV on Roku’s streaming platform. Roku has sent an email to customers with the subject line: “Google may revoke your access to YouTube TV.” If you can’t see it yet, we’re getting a very one-sided view of the story now. Google hasn’t responded to Roku’s first salvo yet, though we’ve asked for comment and will update this article if Google responds. †Update: Google responded, see below.)
Roku’s email says, “Recent negotiations with Google to run YouTube TV have failed because Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms as we believe they could harm our users.” Roku’s email only vaguely references what it claims Google wants, which is, “We cannot accept Google’s unfair and anti-competitive requirements to manipulate your search results, influence the use of your data and end up costing you more.”
Axios claims to be able to fill in the blanks and has published a wild list of requirements that Google has asked for, according to Roku. Google’s alleged demands range from changing the way Roku’s streaming platform works to determining which chips Roku should use in its products. Roku tells Axios that Google wants “a dedicated row of search results for YouTube within the Roku smart TV interface” and that Roku “blocks search results from other streaming content providers while users are using the YouTube app on Roku’s system.”
The report continues: “Roku claims that Google has asked it to give preference to YouTube music results from voice commands created on the Roku remote while the YouTube app is open, even if the user’s music preference is set to another music app, like Pandora.”
Axios’ most outlandish claim is that Google is trying to use app-bearing negotiation to change the way Roku’s products are built. “Roku says Google has threatened to force Roku to use certain chipsets or memory cards that would force Roku to increase the price of its hardware product, which competes directly with Google’s Chromecast,” Axios said.
Roku really goes for it in the last paragraph of its email, saying it is “deeply disappointed with Google’s decision to use their monopoly power to try to enforce terms that directly harm streamers.” The “M-word” is a sensitive topic as Google’s search unit is currently facing an antitrust investigation from the DOJ. But that’s not really relevant here. You could argue that mainstream YouTube has a monopoly on web video, but other than brand sharing, standard YouTube actually has nothing to do with YouTube TV, which competes with cable TV and even has a second streaming competitor in Hulu + Live TV. .
When it comes to who wins the streaming platform wars, Roku actually has the highest market share, with the NPD putting it at 38 percent market share in the US, ahead of Amazon and Samsung. Most counts have Google’s platforms like Google/Android TV and Chromecast in a distant fourth.
YouTube TV is not your normal YouTube app for televisions – this is Google’s cable TV replacement for cord cutters. Similar to cable, YouTube TV lets you pay a large monthly fee ($65 and up) for a bundle of 85+ live TV channels. These are all the mainstays of cable such as ESPN, CNN, MTV, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TBS, TNT, USA, NFL Network and more. It also has local channels from all major national networks: CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox. You can even pay extra for add-ons like HBO, Starz, Cinemax and Showtime, plus sports extras like NFL Red Zone or Fox Soccer Plus.
This isn’t Roku’s first app transport dispute, and in the past, removing Roku only meant removing it from the Channel Store. Users who had already installed the channels could continue to watch. So if you’re a YouTube TV user on Roku and concerned about this, make sure the channel is installed, and hopefully you can get all the mud-slinging out of the way. We’ll likely see something happen soon, as Axios writes, “The contract of carriage between the two companies will expire soon.”
Your move, Google!
Update 12:53 PM: Google has responded to Roku’s claims, calling them “baseless” and denying that it wants changes to search results or user data. The company sent the following statement:
We’ve worked with Roku in good faith to come to an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers. Unfortunately, Roku often uses these kinds of tactics in their negotiations. We are disappointed that they have chosen to make baseless claims as 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 benefit of our mutual users.
Update 3:09 PM: A report from Protocol adds another wrinkle to this story. Google is apparently pushing the AV1 codec during negotiations, which Roku framed as Google needing “certain chipsets” in Roku products. AV1 is a new, more efficient, royalty-free video codec supported by Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, Samsung, Intel, Facebook, Arm, Hulu, and a host of other heavy hitters. AV1 looks poised to become the next big video standard, and Google is working to re-encode the entire YouTube library to AV1. However, wider rollout requires support from hardware vendors. Protocol says that Google requires Android TV OEMs to support AV1, and that Google is also pushing competing smart TV and streaming devices to use AV1, including Roku.
Almost everyone would benefit from the adoption of AV1. Content providers like Google and Netflix would have lower bandwidth costs, and consumers would have lower bandwidth requirements and less chance of a data cap. The only problem is that AV1 support requires a brand new chipset, which is likely to be slightly more expensive than the chips Roku currently uses in its cheapest devices.