Roku could lose YouTube TV app amid contract row with Google

Mike Wheatley

Roku TV and streaming stick owners could be about to lose access to one of the most popular streaming services, with YouTube TV set to be removed from the platform due to the company’s failure to resolves its differences with Google.


Roku said in an April 26 email to customers that recent contract negotiations with Google, which owns YouTube, have broken down, citing “unfair terms” that it believes “could harm our users”.

More specifically, Roku called out the “unfair and anticompetitive requirements” Google has insisted on to manipulate search results. It said Google’s demands condition Roku’s access to host the YouTube TV app on providing preferential treatment for Google’s separate YouTube app. These demands include providing Google with special access to consumer data and for Roku to build a dedicated search result row for YouTube in the platform’s interface. In addition, Google has called for Roku to meet specific hardware specs, Roku said. Google has its own Chromecast device that competes directly with Roku.

The company added that it is “deeply disappointed” about Google’s decision to use its “monopoly power” to try and force terms it believes will cause harm to streamers. However, it said it remains committed to trying to reach an agreement with Google that will preserve its user’s access to YouTube while protecting their data and ensuring a level playing field so that other companies can compete with it.

For its part, YouTube hit out in a blanket statement to various media sources, saying that it has been working with Roku in “good faith” to try and reach an agreement.

“Unfortunately, Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations,” A YouTube spokesperson said. “We're disappointed that they chose to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations. 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 in search results. We hope we can resolve this for the sake of our mutual users.”

If YouTube is pulled it would affect millions of users, as the Roku’s streaming devices and TVs are some of the most popular in the world, with the company maintaining a very big presence in North America, for example. Roku’s Smart TV operating was said to be the best-selling TV platform in the world in 2020.

YouTube’s claims over Roku’s negotiating tactics may have some basis in reality. Roku has been known to drive a hard bargain, and was the last of all major streaming platforms to come to a deal with HBO Max to offer that service to its users, for example. Then again, Google has a bit of a reputation itself for unfairly abusing its monopoly on things such as internet search, so it’s hard to know who to believe in this case.

YouTube TV is different from the regular YouTube service, which is free for anyone. YouTube TV is a platform that provides access to various pay TV channels, and said in December 2020 that it has more than 120 million subscribers in the U.S. The service can be accessed in other countries using a VPN.