The Roku-YouTube-YouTube TV impasse isn’t over yet

It’s been several months since Roku and YouTube TV reached a cease fire in their dispute over … well, over a few things. But it now looks like the war is heating back up.

To recap, Roku in April 2021 first announced that negotiations that would extend YouTube TV’s availability on the Roku platform had broken down. In doing so, it said that “Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms as we believe they could harm our users.” Exactly what those disputed terms are has been a little ambiguous. Roku has said it has to do with search results. Google calls any allegations baseless.

And today, in a rather long blog post for this sort of thing, Roku has renewed its complaints while shining a little more light on the conflict. That light, now doubt, is tinted in Roku’s distinct purple color, but there’s a good bit to glean here.

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First is that it’s pretty obvious that no deal has been reached that would allow YouTube TV back onto the Roku platform like any other streaming service. Currently, those who already had YouTube TV installed could keep using it. Google rigged up a workaround by which the YouTube TV experience can be launched from within the YouTube channel itself, but that’s not really ideal for anyone. And that was a bold move, all but daring Roku to shut down the world’s default streaming video service on its platform. (YouTube TV is only available in the United States and in October 2020 announced that it had more than 3 million subscribers.)

Roku tips its hand a little with the following:

Content available on our platform includes TV streaming services that are owned and operated by some of the most powerful tech companies in the world who also sell their own competing streaming devices.

Read between those lines, and you get a sense that Roku is worried not just about the $50 Chromecast with Google TV — which directly competes with the likes of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, as well as with other low-cost televisions that use the Roku operating system.

Roku flat-out says that “our concerns with Google are not about money.” Perhaps all this really is about principle, but it’s hard to believe that someone actually wrote that line with a straight face. Roku goes on to say that “We have not asked for a single change in the financial terms of our existing agreement. In fact, Roku does not earn a single dollar from YouTube’s ad supported video sharing service today, whereas Google makes hundreds of millions of dollars from the YouTube app on Roku.”

That’s conflating a few things that are related, but not the same. YouTube is not YouTube TV, even though those lines certainly are more blurry than any of the other live TV streaming services, like Hulu or Sling TV. What Roku doesn’t say is whether the concern is over any sort of fees it might be demanding over advertising shown on YouTube TV. Perhaps YouTube TV doesn’t want to pay as high a rate as it’s currently paying, thus the impasse.

Roku does lay out things fairly succinctly, though not necessarily with any great fidelity:

​There are two primary concerns we are working to address: First, Google continues to interfere with Roku’s independent search results, requiring that we preference YouTube over other content providers. This is a concern shared by many companies who believe that customers deserve neutral and relevant results to their search queries. Second, Google discriminates against Roku by demanding search, voice, and data features that they do not insist on from other streaming platforms. ​

What that has to do with YouTube TV isn’t exactly clear. Nor does it meant that Roku and YouTube and YouTube TV and Google (and Alphabet, we suppose, which is the parent company for the latter three) can’t reach some sort of deal by what Deadline has said is a December 9 deadline, at which point new Roku users would be unable to download YouTube apps. (There’s precedent for that, by the way — Amazon Fire TV went a long time without a proper YouTube app.)

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