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Google and Roku Butting Heads Again

Google and Roku are now butting heads again, after Roku pulled the Youtube TV app from their App Store:

 

Via Ars Technica:

 

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/04/roku-vs-google-part-2-the-youtube-tv-app-gets-pulled-from-the-roku-store/

 

 

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Roku warned us on Monday that this could happen. This morning, the company announced that YouTube TV is no longer available on the Roku Channel Store. Google and Roku are squabbling over Roku's carrying agreement, just like you might see in an old-school cable TV carriage dispute.

This primarily affects the Youtube TV app, which is a Youtube subscription service that delivers live TV streams over the internet. While the app has been pulled from the store, existing users of the app on Roku devices will still be able to use the app, but new users won't be able to sign up. Both companies have made press statements on the matter:

Roku's press statement:

 

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We are disappointed that Google has allowed our agreement for the distribution of YouTube TV to expire. Roku has not asked for one dollar of additional financial consideration from Google to renew YouTube TV.

 

We have only asked Google for four simple commitments. First, not to manipulate consumer search results. Second, not to require access to data not available to anyone else. Third, not to leverage their YouTube monopoly to force Roku to accept hardware requirements that would increase consumer costs. Fourth, not to act in a discriminatory and anticompetitive manner against Roku.

 

Because our contract has expired, we have removed YouTube TV from our channel store. To continue to provide our users with a great streaming experience, we are taking the extra step to continue to offer existing subscribers access to YouTube TV on the Roku platform unless Google takes actions that require the full removal of the channel. Because of Google's conduct, new subscriptions will not be available going forward until an agreement is reached.

 

It is well past time for Google to embrace the principles that have made streaming so popular for millions of users by giving consumers control of their streaming experience, by embracing fair competition and by ceasing anticompetitive practices. We believe consumers stand to benefit from Google and Roku reaching a fair agreement that preserves these principles and we remain committed to trying to achieve that goal.

 

Google's press statement:

 

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We launched YouTube TV four years ago to bring you the TV content you love, delivered the way you want. From day one, we’ve worked to listen to your feedback to improve the experience, bring the content providers you enjoy and make the app available on as many devices as possible. We’ve been working with Roku to renew our deal to distribute YouTube TV on their devices. Despite our best efforts to come to an agreement in the best interests of our mutual users, Roku terminated our deal in bad faith amidst our negotiation. Unfortunately, Roku has often engaged in this tactic with other streaming providers. 

 

The most important thing for us is to make sure you are taken care of, and that the experience of our shared users is a good one. As we post this, existing users still have access to YouTube TV on Roku devices. We encourage Roku not to remove the YouTube TV app so that existing users can continue enjoying the service. 

We wanted to explain how we have been negotiating in good faith on behalf of our YouTube TV members:

 

  • Our initial conversations started with Roku simply to renew the current terms of their ongoing deal with YouTube TV, which has been in place for several years. Our offer to Roku was simple and still stands: renew the YouTube TV deal under the existing reasonable terms. 
  • However, Roku chose to use this as an opportunity to renegotiate a separate deal encompassing the YouTube main app, which does not expire until December. 

  • Our agreements with partners have technical requirements to ensure a high quality experience on YouTube. Roku requested exceptions that would break the YouTube experience and limit our ability to update YouTube in order to fix issues or add new features. For example, by not supporting open-source video codecs, you wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if you bought a Roku device that supports that resolution. 

  • We can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users. To be clear, we have never, as they have alleged, made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results. This claim is baseless and false.

We understand the concern members may have about this and we don’t take this lightly. We are committed to ensuring our members continue to have access to YouTube TV and will continue advocating on behalf of our members.

 

From reading both statements and from earlier reporting, it appears the dispute centers around the AV1 codec. Roku's statement seems to indicate that Google wanted Roku through their Youtube market share to accept hardware performance requirements that would significantly increase costs, which the Google statement seems to support.

 

The AV1 codec, the issue that appears to be at hand is a new open source codec being sponsored by Google and a number of other tech firms, such as Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, et al. This codec does significantly increase the hardware performance requirements in order to enable playback on devices,which are obviously more expensive. Roku appears to be pushing back at the demand, since many of their devices would never be able to run the AV1 codec in the first place due to performance limitations, and due to how cheap Roku devices are, would dramatically increase the costs of said devices. In fact, the currently cheapest device that can handle AV1 codec playback is a Roku device; the $100 USD Roku Ultra, which seems to be the floor at which how cheap someone can make a device and still be able to handle AV1 code playback and not loose money on making them.

 

Personally, I can definitely see it both ways. I can understand why Roku is pushing back at Google, because of how expensive it is to support AV1 codec playback. But I can understand where Google is coming from; this is a future upcoming standard that other companies will be supporting, and I suspect those other companies will also be demanding AV1 codec support as part of their agreements.

 

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Google's requirement only for certain quality settings? For example, "if you want to decode YouTube 4k, you will need to support AV1". 

 

I don't see anything wrong with that.

 

If they are requiring hardware support for formats that users might not even use then that's a dick move by YouTube.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The dispute between Roku and Google has intensified, with Google deciding to do an end-run and integrate Youtube TV directly into their Youtube app on Roku:

 

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/05/google-foils-rokus-youtube-tv-ban-adds-service-to-the-main-youtube-app/

 

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Previously on Google versus Roku: Roku and Google needed to renew the contract for YouTube TV, Google's $65-per-month cable TV replacement, on Roku's TV platform. The two companies weren't able to come to an agreement on the new contract, resulting in YouTube TV being pulled from the Roku store. Oh no! While existing customers could still use the YouTube TV app they had already installed, new users couldn't sign up. Will the two companies ever be able to settle their differences, or is their friendship ruined forever?

The next exciting episode in this saga aired on Friday, when Google announced in a blog post that it was just going to run an end-around on Roku and stick the YouTube TV app in the YouTube app. YouTube and YouTube TV exist as separate apps, and while the YouTube TV contract expired and the app was taken off the Roku store, the YouTube contract does not expire until December.

 

Google is also considering sending free devices to Youtube TV subscribers as well, if they continue to face any issues with gaining access via their Roku devices.

 

It very much seems like the dispute between Google and Roku is heating up, with neither side budging.

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