Roku exercises platform control, boots YouTube TV from all devices
posted Sunday May 2, 2021 by Scott Ertz
In the early days of Roku, one of its big selling points was that there was no editorial control. Basically, anyone could develop an app for the platform and deploy it without interference from Roku, so long as very minimal rules were obeyed (no adult or pirated content). However, that has all changed in the past few years, with Roku requiring big platforms to agree to additional terms, and sign special publishing agreements. That makes Roku more like a cable provider than a content-agnostic platform. This week, YouTube TV fell victim to these contract disputes.
Anyone with cable has seen the ads from your local stations saying that your provider is going to remove the network. We've also seen ads from the cable company saying that FOX or NBC is trying to bully the cable company into a bad contract. That is precisely the back and forth seen between Roku and Google surrounding YouTube TV. Because of this fight, Roku has removed YouTube TV from the channel store following the expiration of the previous contract.
On Roku's side, the company complains that Google has made unreasonable demands of the platform. For example, YouTube TV has its own search result row on the main screen, when no one else has the same feature. The company also uses the Roku voice search capability to search only within their own platform, which is something Roku plans to change in the next major update. There is also talk of Google wanting YouTube Music to be prioritized in search over the user's primary platform setting.
Roku claims that the reason they have given in on so many of Google's demands has been because of Google's size and power. Google, especially in the search and YouTube space, is often accused of anti-competitive behavior, but this is the first time we have seen a company really call them out and follow through on it.
Google says that Roku is infamous for these types of tactics, abusing its position as platform provider to bully the competition. Google and Roku compete on hardware, and this is an attempt to show dominance in contract negotiations. It truly does follow the path of cable providers before them.
Goog,e also argues that they have asked for no special treatment (though the operating system itself provides evidence to the contrary). Claims that Google wants to affect search results are false, and Roku is trying to make them look bad.
As of Friday, the YouTube TV app is no longer is the channel store. For now, users who already have it installed can continue to use it, but no new downloads ar permitted. It is possible that, depending on the direction of the contract negotiations, everyone could lose access in the future.
It would be a surprise if the app is pulled entirely, as it is a high-profile platform. But, Roku also famously delayed HBO Max's launch on the platform over similar contract disputes, so anything is possible.