Roku warns it could lose YouTube TV over spat with Google
Roku devices are among the most popular streaming devices in the United States, just ever so slightly behind Amazon’s Fire TV devices. So it’s pretty much a given that Roku offers support for many of the most popular services, including YouTube TV, a streaming service from Google that provides live TV and on-demand video over the Internet. But if you’re a YouTube TV user watching TV over a Roku device, there’s the chance that you could lose access to the service, as Roku is currently involved in a spat with Google over what Roku considers anticompetitive behavior from Google.
The reason behind this standoff? According to Roku (via: The Verge), Google is demanding preferential treatment for their free main YouTube app as a condition for keeping YouTube TV supported in Roku devices. Some of Google’s demands regarding this “preferential treatment” include apparently providing Google with special access to consumer data as well as a dedicated search result row for YouTube in Roku’s interface.
“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anticompetitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson said in a statement, further adding that “given antitrust suits against Google, investigations by competition authorities of anti-competitive behavior and congressional hearings into Google’s practices, it should come as no surprise that Google is now demanding unfair and anticompetitive terms that harm Roku’s users.”
But the core reason behind it all might be a squabble over codecs, Protocol speculates, as according to Roku, Google is also apparently mandating specific hardware requirements to them that can end up increasing the price of their products (and in turn favoring Google’s own direct competitor to Roku, the Chromecast). Android TV device makers are required to support the AV1 codec starting this month, while non-Android TV device makers are also being required to support it if they want to include YouTube and YouTube TV.
While AV1 decoding translates in better-looking 4K videos at lower bitrates and will eventually be better for everyone once it’s widespread, it’s also not supported by most Roku devices just yet or most current-gen streaming devices for that matter, and forcing a rough transition means more spending for these companies.
Asked for comment, a Google spokesperson told The Verge that “we have been working with Roku in good faith to reach an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers. Unfortunately, Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations. We’re disappointed that they chose to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations,” adding that “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 sake of our mutual users.”
While Google is the bigger company by a lot, Roku is in a much stronger market position regarding streaming devices in North America. So only time will tell if the negotiations will keep going forward or tank, resulting in YouTube TV’s removal from the platform. One thing is for sure: this isn’t the first time Google gets pointed at for anticompetitive behavior, and with Congress looking over Google, it probably won’t be the last.