On Monday, Roku notified its millions of users that it may lose the YouTube TV app, from its platform. And this is over anti-competitive demands from Google. Roku says that Google is requesting preferential treatment for its YouTube apps. Surprisingly, it’s not about money.
This is the first major fight in the streaming TV era, between two of the top streaming platforms, at that. Since Google does also compete with Roku with Android TV.
What’s going on?
Getting an app onto a streaming platform like Roku isn’t as simple as just making it available on their app store. There needs to be a deal between the two companies. Which is why HBO MAX was not available on Roku at launch, AT&T and Roku couldn’t come together on a deal for ads.
Google has been a big partner for Roku over the years, its apps have always been available on Roku. And it has also brought Cast and Google Assistant to Roku. But it appears that Roku has had enough with Google and its anti-competitive practices.
Roku says that Google has asked it to do things that they do not see replicated on other streaming platforms. This includes creating a dedicated search results row for YouTube within the Roku smart TV interface. It also says that Google has required it to block search results from other streaming content providers while the user is using the YouTube app.
There’s more. Roku also says that Google wants it to favor YouTube Music results from voice commands made on the Roku remote while the YouTube app is open. Overriding the user’s choice of having a different default music service on their Roku device. And Google has also threatened to require Roku to use certain chipsets or memory cards, which would force Roku to increase prices on its hardware. Considering it competes with Google’s $50 Chromecast, that could force Roku to lose customers to Google’s own platform.
Google is basically trying to use the renewal of YouTube TV’s distribution contract with Roku to force more anti-competitive benefits for Google’s suite of YouTube apps.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens here. But where Roku told all of its customers about this issue with Google, it’s likely that Google could see some backlash over this and they may decide to change their mind and remove some of these anti-competitive demands.