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Google goes nuclear against Roku by adding YouTube TV to the main YouTube app

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It’s also securing ‘free streaming devices’ for customers in case talks with Roku completely fall apart

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A week after their broken-down negotiations spilled into the public, Google and Roku still haven’t been able to reach a deal to renew YouTube TV’s presence on the huge streaming platform. But Google has come up with something of a workaround in the meantime: it’s going to let people access YouTube TV directly from the main YouTube app.

YouTube users will start seeing a “Go to YouTube TV” option in the main YouTube app over the next few days. When they select that, they’ll then be switched over to the standard YouTube TV user experience. This option is coming to Roku devices first — where it’s currently most needed — but will also come to YouTube on other platforms as well.

Image: YouTube

In essence, Google has basically stuffed the YouTube TV app into YouTube itself, a solution that seems unlikely to make Roku very happy. Google says it’s “still working to come to an agreement with Roku to ensure continued access to YouTube TV for our mutual customers,” and it notes the YouTube TV app remains usable for those who already have it installed.

But in the event that things totally fall apart, Google says it’s “in discussions with other partners to secure free streaming devices in case YouTube TV members face any access issues on Roku.” A Google spokesperson told The Verge that this workaround is only for consumption of YouTube TV; customers cannot sign up for new subscriptions through the YouTube app at this time.

On Friday afternoon, Roku responded to Google’s latest move by calling the company “an unchecked monopolist.” Roku also criticized Google’s decision to bundle the services together as an example of its “predatory business practices.”

Here’s Roku’s full statement, which suggests the company won’t be goaded into removing the main YouTube app:

Google’s actions are the clear conduct of an unchecked monopolist bent on crushing fair competition and harming consumer choice. The bundling announcement by YouTube highlights the kind of predatory business practices used by Google that Congress, Attorney Generals and regulatory bodies around the world are investigating. Roku has not asked for one additional dollar in financial value from YouTubeTV. 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.

Google said in its Friday blog post that it’s “in ongoing, long-term conversations with Roku to certify that new devices meet our technical requirements,” another confirmation that the company is insisting hardware makers implement support for AV1 decoding:

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. We’ll continue our conversations with Roku on certification, in good faith, with the goal of advocating for our mutual customers.

Roku has argued that Google’s requirements are unreasonable and will lead to higher prices for its products.

Update May 7th, 3:20PM ET: The article has been updated to include comment from Roku.