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Roku and Google are in the midst of a significant dispute, one that could see Google’s YouTube TV app pulled from Roku’s platform.
The stakes are high for both sides, with YouTube TV among the market leaders for streaming pay-TV services with more than 3 million subscribers (only Hulu with Live TV has more), and Roku the dominant streaming video platform with more than 51 million active users.
Unlike previous carriage disputes that Roku has had with companies like NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and Fox Corp., the back-and-forth with Google is in what a senior Roku source says is “unprecedented territory for us.”
In most carriage disputes, the negotiations are over money. In the case of Roku, it is often over how to divvy up subscription and advertising revenue. That isn’t the case here.
“It’s not about money,” the Roku source says. “We are not asking for any more money, not a single dollar more in value.”
Instead, the dispute is over data, search, and hardware.
Roku, in a message sent to YouTube TV subscribers that use its platform, said that Google demanded that Roku prioritize YouTube content in its search results, and demanded that it use certain chips or memory cards that would force the company to raise the prices of its hardware.
“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anti-competitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson said in a statement Monday. Google, of course, is facing antitrust scrutiny by the federal government, and Roku noted that in its statement:
“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 anti-competitive terms that harm Roku’s users.”
The dispute is the latest example of carriage battles jumping from traditional cable and satellite TV platforms to streaming.
In 2019 THR called the threat of looming carriage battles a “ticking time bomb” for streaming, and that prediction has quickly come to fruition.
Roku is independent, not associated with a tech giants like its competitors in the space Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire, and with a platform not owned by a major entertainment giant like Disney. That has led the company to push for stronger deal terms.
Over the past year the company has had disputes with NBCUniversal, Fox, and WarnerMedia, among others. Ultimately, terms were able to be agreed upon. In its latest dispute with Google, Roku is going so far as to ask its users to take matters into their own hands, asking them to contact Google urging them to strike a deal.
Roku has also begun building its own originals library, acquiring 75 shows from the defunct shortform streaming service Quibi in January and 60 seasons of home improvement show This Old House in March.
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