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Roku could lose YouTube TV in standoff with Google

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Roku’s accusing Google of anti-competitive demands

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The YouTube TV app could disappear from Roku devices in the coming days, according to an email sent to subscribers on Monday. In a last-ditch effort, Roku is calling on subscribers to reach out to Google to “urge them” to reach an agreement.

In a statement issued Monday, Roku accused Google of attempting to control the platform’s user experience in a way that favors its own products as the two companies negotiate a contract renewal for YouTube TV.

“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anti-competitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “It should come as no surprise that Google is now demanding unfair and anti-competitive terms that harm Roku’s users.”​

According to Roku, 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.

While smaller than Google as a company, Roku currently controls nearly 45 percent of set-top box viewing time and has significant leverage over apps as a result. When HBO Max failed to secure a deal with the company for its launch last summer, the gap was seen as a significant hurdle for the new service — and a minor inconvenience for Roku itself. Still, Roku insists it is not seeking any additional money from the YouTube TV partnership and that its only goal is avoiding terms that favor Chromecast hardware.

“We have been working with Roku in good faith to reach an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers. Unfortunately, Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations. We’re disappointed that they chose to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge Monday. “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 with search results. We hope we can resolve this for the sake of our mutual users.”

Roku’s blistering allegations come amid a series of massive antitrust investigations into Google by the Justice Department, state attorneys general, and Congress. Last week, Google testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel regarding the company’s Play Store and the fees it charges to app developers.

“Google is already under fire from governments around the world for manipulating search results,” the Roku spokesperson said. “It is outrageous that Google would now try to insist on manipulating Roku’s search results as well.”​

Updated April 26, 2021 at 12:25 PM ET: Added a statement from Google.