Roku Calls Google An “Unchecked Monopolist” For Adding Workaround Feature To YouTube Amid TV Carriage Battle – Update

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki speaks during the introduction of YouTube TV in 2017. AP Photo/Reed Saxon

UPDATED with Roku statement. Roku has hit back at Google over actions by its YouTube TV unit in the companies’ distribution fight.

Earlier today, YouTube TV said it was adding a “Go to YouTube TV” function within the main YouTube app as a workaround for YouTube TV bundle subscribers caught up in the tussle.

In a statement, Roku called Google’s actions “the clear conduct of an unchecked monopolist bent on crushing fair competition and harming consumer choice.”

The new feature “highlights the kind of predatory business practices used by Google that Congress, Attorneys General and regulatory bodies around the world are investigating,” the Roku statement continued. “Roku has not asked for one additional dollar in financial value from YouTube TV. We have simply asked Google to stop their anticompetitive behavior of manipulating user search results to their unique financial benefit and to stop demanding access to sensitive data that no other partner on our platform receives today. In response, Google has continued its practice of blatantly leveraging its YouTube monopoly to force an independent company into an agreement that is both bad for consumers and bad for fair competition.”


As its clash with Roku continues, YouTube is introducing a feature that enables subscribers to its TV bundle to access it inside the main YouTube app.

Roku, the leading streaming provider in the U.S. recently removed YouTube TV from its channel store, escalating an ongoing dispute over data use and search. That means no new subscribers can sign up, but existing ones can still view the bundle via Roku. As recently as Thursday, Roku has maintained that it is not seeking better carriage terms or more revenue. Instead, it is objecting to what it says is YouTube and parent Google’s efforts to manipulate user data, a characterization YouTube calls inaccurate.

The main distribution agreement covering the regular YouTube app — which is increasingly viewed via connected interfaces such as Roku’s — expires in December. Until then, YouTube said it felt it was necessary to introduce a workaround given the uncertain outlook for the current stance by Roku of enabling access for current subscribers.

YouTube TV subscribers viewing the bundled service through a Roku TV set or connected device will now be able to click on “Go to YouTube TV” from the main YouTube app. The company said the new feature will be available to all YouTube TV members on Roku over the next few days, with plans to expand it to more devices down the line.

The “Go To” feature makes it “easier to enjoy all the content you love,” YouTube TV told users on a help page it set up to explain the step.

YouTube said it is in “ongoing, long-term conversations with Roku to certify that new devices meet our technical requirements.” Roku has charged that Google has insisted on certain technical features be added to Roku’s devices and interface that Roku sees as unreasonably complex and expensive. Meantime, YouTube is also talking with other third-parties about providing subscribers with free streaming devices as an alternative to Roku, in order to avoid a full blackout.

“This certification process exists to ensure a consistent and high-quality YouTube experience across different devices, including Google’s own–so you know how to navigate the app and what to expect,” YouTube’s blog post added. “We’ll continue our conversations with Roku on certification, in good faith, with the goal of advocating for our mutual customers. As always, our top priority is offering a positive user experience, and we’ll continue working to make YouTube TV a best-in-class experience.”

Google said last fall that YouTube TV had surpassed 3 million subscribers but it has not provided an update since. It has also not broken out how many of its subscribers are on Roku, but in its earnings report Thursday Roku reaffirmed its status as the No. 1 streaming gatekeeper, with nearly 54 million active accounts.

As it has grown in recent years, Roku has asserted its market position in carriage talks with partners. It had a recent snag with Fox, threatening to unplug the company’s main network app on the eve of its streaming of the Super Bowl in 2020. That same year, the company took a tough line with new streaming entrants HBO Max and Peacock. Both eventually reached agreements with Roku, but only after both sides made concessions and months had passed after the services’ launches.

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