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Roku removes YouTube TV from channel store as dispute with Google escalates

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If you’ve already got the app, be careful not to delete it

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Roku has pulled YouTube TV from its channel store. The distribution agreement between Roku and Google for YouTube TV has expired as of today — and the two sides haven’t been able to reach a new deal. However, Roku says it is “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.” New subscriptions from the YouTube TV app have also been switched off “until an agreement is reached.”

In an email to customers, Roku warned “it is also important that you do not delete the YouTube TV app as it will not be available for download to Roku devices.” The regular YouTube app is unaffected by this situation and remains freely available on Roku devices.

Roku has accused Google of seeking unfair terms that would adversely affect streaming competitors and benefit the YouTube suite of apps. Google has also asked for deeper access to Roku customer data than other services, Roku claims, and is pushing Roku to adopt new hardware requirements; presumably the company is aiming to get AV1 supported in the future.

“We have only asked Google for four simple commitments,” Roku said in a new statement today. “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.”

Earlier this week, Google accused Roku of abusing its strong position in the streaming hardware market. “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 told The Verge on 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.”

Google today followed that up with a blog post, stating that “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.” Google claims that Roku used the opportunity to also “renegotiate a separate deal encompassing the YouTube main app, which does not expire until December.”

One bullet point really does sound like Google wants Roku to get on board with the AV1 codec:

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.

The takeaway is that we’re witnessing a more online, digital version of the carriage disputes that are so common between cable providers and content providers. Both companies are choosing their words extremely carefully.

Roku has insisted it’s not demanding more money from Google, and its email to customers — sent out at 8AM ET this morning — says “we cannot accept Google’s unfair and anticompetitive requirements that would allow for the manipulation of your search results, impact the usage of your data, and ultimately cost you more.” Google’s stance is that it “can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users,” and it’s reiterating that there have been no requests to change search or for special access to user data. “This claim is baseless and false,” Google said in its post.

Update April 30th 12PM ET: The article has been updated with new information from a blog post published by Google / YouTube.