UPDATED: Roku’s deal to distribute YouTube TV expired Friday — and amid its standoff with Google, Roku pulled YouTube TV from its channel store.
For now, however Roku said it is continuing to provide access to YouTube TV for existing subscribers, “unless Google takes actions that require the full removal of the channel.” Roku had warned customers with YouTube TV earlier this week that the service may go dark because of the dispute. On Friday, Roku sent another notice about the removal of YouTube TV from the channel store, which means the app cannot be installed or reinstalled on a Roku device.
Roku alleges that Google is seeking anticompetitive terms. According to Roku, Google is demanding that if a Roku user has the regular YouTube app open, the platform cannot display search results from third-party services like Netflix, Disney Plus or HBO Max. (The regular YouTube app remains available on Roku and is not affected by the current dispute.) Google also is asking for special access to Roku user data and wants the ability to dictate hardware requirements to Roku in the future for running its apps, Roku alleged.
“Roku has not asked for one dollar of additional financial consideration from Google to renew YouTube TV,” a Roku rep said in an emailed statement. “Because of Google’s conduct, new subscriptions will not be available going forward until an agreement is reached.”
The Roku spokesperson added, “It is well past time for Google to embrace the principles that have made streaming so popular for millions of users by giving consumers control of their streaming experience, by embracing fair competition and by ceasing anticompetitive practices.”
In a blog post Friday, YouTube responded to Roku’s move — claiming that it was Roku that tied the talks about the YouTube app with the YouTube TV renewal. YouTube said its offer to Roku “was simple and still stands: renew the YouTube TV deal under the existing reasonable terms. However, Roku chose to use this as an opportunity to renegotiate a separate deal encompassing the YouTube main app,” which does not expire until December 2021.
“Despite our best efforts to come to an agreement in the best interests of our mutual users, Roku terminated our deal in bad faith amidst our negotiation,” YouTube’s statement said.
According to YouTube, “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, users wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if they have a Roku device that supports those resolutions. YouTube also reiterated its denial of Roku’s allegation that Google or YouTube made any requests to access Roku user data or interfere with search results. “This claim is baseless and false,” YouTube said.
YouTube TV, available only in the U.S., costs $65/month (after a price hike last summer). The internet pay-TV service provides more than 85 channels, including local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC TV stations in nearly all markets. YouTube TV also provides a DVR with unlimited storage space, plus up to six accounts per household and up to three concurrent streams.
Carriage disputes between pay-TV operators and networks are nothing new, and Roku has engaged in hardball tactics with content providers.
Last year, for example, Roku held out for months before reaching deals for WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock and adding those apps to its platforms. And less than three days before the 2020 Super Bowl, Roku pulled Fox’s channels in a contract dispute before the parties reached a last-minute deal to keep them on the OTT platform.
Roku argues that the current fight with Google is atypical. According to Roku, it’s about Google abusing its dominant position with YouTube, in an effort to extract unfair content-search advantages and put Roku’s hardware business at the mercy of Google’s technical demands.
Here’s the text of the email Roku sent to customers about the situation:
Dear Roku Customer,
We are disappointed to share the news that Google has chosen to let the YouTube TV contract expire.
While this news is unfortunate, we wanted to let you know that we are taking an extra step to ensure existing Roku users like yourself retain access to YouTube TV while we work to reach an agreement.
We will always stand up for our users, which is why we cannot accept Google’s unfair and anticompetitive requirements that would allow for the manipulation of your search results, impact the usage of your data and ultimately cost you more.
Our commitment is to always put your interests first and therefore we will continue to offer existing users access to YouTube TV unless Google takes actions that require the full removal of the channel. New subscribers will not be allowed at this time. It is also important that you do not delete the YouTube TV app as it will not be available for download to Roku devices.
We remain committed to reaching a good-faith agreement with Google that preserves your access to YouTube TV, honors your desired search preferences and protects your data. We hope to update you soon.