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Roku & YouTube TV Dispute: What Happened & Will a Deal Be Agreed?


YouTube TV Roku

Roku and YouTube TV are involved in a dispute which has made it harder for Roku device users to access the live TV streaming service. While it remains to be seen if the dispute will be resolved soon, YouTube TV did release a workaround for the issue. Here’s a recap on the situation, what both companies have said in the past, and a look at whether the dispute is likely to end in the future.

Towards the end of April, Roku sent out a warning to affected users advising that they might lose device support for YouTube TV. That warning became a reality within days, as Roku pulled the YouTube TV app from the Roku Store. Technically, this only affected new downloads with those that had already downloaded YouTube TV on a Roku device still able to access the service. Therefore, the issue was in relation to downloading the app and not necessarily using the app.

Soon after the situation unfolded, YouTube TV announced an update for the main YouTube app that allowed YouTube TV subscribers to access the live TV service directly through the main app, removing the need for the YouTube TV app altogether. There are some limitations with this workaround, however. For example, consumers can’t sign up directly through the main app, making it not an option for new users. Not to mention, less of an experience than what is available with the dedicated YouTube TV app in general.

What Roku has said

Roku claims the reason for the dispute was due to Google and YouTube making unreasonable demands Specifically, Roku claimed the demands would put user privacy at risk and affect competition within the Roku ecosystem. Considering these demands were part of a contract renegotiation, the YouTube TV app was pulled from the Roku platform while those talks continued.

In emails sent to affected users, Roku explained that it was Google that opted to let the YouTube TV contract expire. The email went on to explain that Roku is concerned over “Google’s unfair and anticompetitive requirements” which could lead to “manipulation of your search results” and impact on “the usage of your data and ultimately cost you more.”

Essentially, Roku is arguing that it has been unable to agree a new deal to distribute YouTube TV on its devices as a result of its commitment to protecting user interests and data. As to be expected, Google and YouTube have a very different take on the entire situation.

What YouTube has said

From YouTube TV’s perspective, YouTube issued a statement after the app removal denying the claims and referring to them as “baseless and false.” In fact, the statement specifically stated that YouTube was not looking to add new terms, but “renew the YouTube TV deal under the existing reasonable terms.” The statement goes on to explain that it was Roku who decided to renegotiate the existing deal by bringing the main (non-TV) YouTube app into the same negotiations.

Essentially, Roku and YouTube have two separate deals – one for the TV app and for the main YouTube app. While the latter is not due to expire until the end of 2021, Roku opted to negotiate both deals at the same time, according to YouTube. The changes requested by Roku, according to YouTube, were in relation to the main app and not the TV app, and ones that YouTube was not happy to agree to. In YouTube’s words, “We can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users.”

In May, YouTube TV released another statement to provide an update on the situation, while announcing the launch of the ability to access YouTube TV directly from the main YouTube app. While this appeared to have been readied in response to the Roku situation, YouTube did explain that the goal was to make the same feature available on other platforms and devices in the future. Presumably, avoiding any similar dispute issues arising before they happen.

Will the dispute be resolved?

Disputes between companies are nothing new in streaming. Although the market overall is still quite young, there have already been many instances of companies removing or limiting access to a channel, app or service. While many disputes do eventually end up being resolved and users gaining access once again, others haven’t. Whether or not the Roku and YouTube TV dispute will come to an end remains to be seen right now.

In their previous statements, both companies have suggested they want the dispute to end. For example, Roku has said “We remain committed to reaching a good-faith agreement with Google.” Likewise, YouTube has said “We’re still working to come to an agreement with Roku to ensure continued access to YouTube TV.” While both of these are positive statements in general, they were provided at a time when talks between the two had reached a low.

What may eventually end up being a deciding factor is the deal over the main YouTube app. As mentioned, that deal is due to end in December, 2021. It stands to reason that neither Roku nor Google will want a situation to arise where the main YouTube app is pulled from the Roku ecosystem. While that would suggest that a deal is likely to be worked out between the two before the end of this year, it has become increasing clear over the years that there are never any guarantees in streaming.

Read more: YouTube TV Doesn’t Carry Bally Sports (& Probably Won’t)

John Finn


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