Bulletins

Google may end its Roku distribution deal in December as stalemate continues

New Roku devices would ship without YouTube's apps if the two companies don't strike a new deal in time.

Roku

YouTube's fight with Roku could come to a head in December.

Image: Roku / Protocol

The ongoing dispute between Roku and Google may result in Google pulling its YouTube and YouTube TV apps from the Roku app store on Dec. 9, both companies confirmed this week. Roku painted this move as anti-competitive in a blog post published Thursday morning, while Google accused Roku of making "unproductive and baseless claims" in a statement sent to Protocol. Sen. Amy Klobuchar chimed in as well, calling the dispute proof for the need for new competition laws.


At the core of the issue are distribution deals for Google's YouTube and YouTube TV apps, and the technical requirements Google insists on to distribute apps on third-party platforms. As part of these requirements, Google has been pushing hardware makers to adopt the open AV1 video codec for 4K video; currently, some but not all Roku hardware is capable of playing A1.

Roku also alleges that Google has pushed the company to prioritize its content in search results; Google has rejected those claims. As a result, Roku suggested this week that the dispute may become part of a bigger regulatory push against Google.

"Some Big Tech enterprises are using their market power to extend control over independent businesses, like Roku, to benefit their broader business objectives at the expense of the consumer, putting a fair and open competitive streaming marketplace at risk," Roku wrote in its blog post. "This is unfortunately the case Roku and numerous other independent companies now face with Google, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and more than 30 State Attorneys General for violating competition laws."

Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, followed up with a statement of her own, writing: "Roku's claim that Google requires the company to preference YouTube content over that of other providers in Roku's search results highlights why we need new laws to prevent dominant digital platforms from abusing their power as gatekeepers. [...] That is why Senator [Chuck] Grassley and I have joined with a bipartisan group of our colleagues to introduce legislation that will set rules of the road to make this type of anticompetitive conduct illegal to prevent harm to businesses and consumers online."

Roku's renewed publicity push primarily focused on the YouTube TV app, but Google made it clear Thursday that the YouTube app itself is at play as well: "Since we haven't been able to continue our conversations in good faith, our partnership for all new Roku devices will unfortunately end on Dec. 9," a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement. "We are, however, giving Roku the ability to continue distributing both YouTube and YouTube TV apps to all existing users to make sure they are not impacted."

This wouldn't be the first time Roku wouldn't be able to ship new devices with YouTube's apps. Roku didn't carry an official YouTube app for a couple of years, and was only able to do so after the two companies struck an agreement in 2013.

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