Roku and Google find common ground to keep YouTube on the platform
posted Saturday Dec 11, 2021 by Scott Ertz
Since May 2021, there has been a battle brewing between two media powerhouses: Roku and YouTube. The battle has been over contract terms for YouTube TV, which is the company's live TV offering. Roku decided to exercise its ever-growing platform control by blocking YouTube TV on the platform. Now, the two companies have come to an agreement just hours before the primary YouTube app was scheduled to be removed as well.
Roku has been increasing its control over its platform - in a very Apple style. While in the past it was easy to publish an app to the Roku store, now Roku wants full control over what is made available. This is because Roku wants a cut of profits generated through the platform, even if that revenue isn't processed on the platform. They also want third-party content to be integrated tightly into the search and home screen in a universal way. They are also removing sideloading guaranteeing their full control over app availability.
Google seemed uninterested in coming to an agreement with Roku, particularly on content availability. YouTube TV currently has its own content row in the discovery section of the platform, and its content is searchable differently in voice search. Roku doesn't like that, so the YouTube TV app was removed from the platform.
As a result, YouTube simply moved the YouTube TV content into the primary YouTube app. The company seemed confident that Roku would not want one of the biggest media platforms to be missing from its platform and tried to call its bluff. However, YouTube might not have been aware that Roku blocked HBO Max for months after its launch - over the same type of negotiations.
This week, just hours before the deadline for negotiations, Roku and YouTube announced that they had come to an understanding and that the YouTube app would remain on the Roku platform. The agreement is not a short-term transitory agreement, but instead covers multiple years, and will see the YouTube app stay on the platform.
There are a number of conditions that are still private, including what "multi-year" means. That could be 2 or 12 - and neither company is revealing the details. We also don't know just yet if the YouTube TV feature will remain as part of the wider YouTube app or if the standalone app will return at a future date. Either way, this is good news for YouTube TV subscribers who have relied on Roku TVs or set-top boxes to use the service.
This tactic, and the accompanying negotiating strategies, are not unique to this situation, nor are they unique to Roku. Cable and satellite TV providers use the exact same strategies when negotiating licensing deals. You have likely seen your local NBC or FOX affiliate beg you to call your cable provider or you'll lose all Universal or Disney/20th Century Television stations soon.
The problem with this strategy, whether it's NBC and Charter or Roku and YouTube, is that it turns you, the paying user, into a pawn that both are willing to sacrifice. Neither Roku nor YouTube showed a particular interest in fighting for users - only for themselves. It should tell you exactly where you stand in the marketplace of ideas.