Roku and Google’s YouTube have been arguing for more than a week over the terms of a new distribution agreement.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Google‘s Youtube optimizes its app for Roku to include access to its live TV streaming subscription service, YouTube TVsaid the search giant in a Blog post FridayIt also explores how free streaming devices can be sent to YouTube TV subscribers.

Roku had no immediate comment.

It is the latest escalation in a stalemate between Google and Roku over a new distribution agreement for YouTube TV, which is a subscription service that broadcasts live television channels usually used as an alternative to cable or satellite for cable cutters. After the previous contract expired last week, YouTube TV’s dedicated app was removed from Roku’s channel store to prevent new downloads. However, the YouTube TV app will still work with Roku TVs and gadgets for those who already have them installed.

With Google’s move on Friday, the main YouTube app is intended to serve two purposes – the traditional task of making YouTube’s huge online video library free to everyone, as well as providing new access to YouTube TV’s live channels and other features for those paying Subscribers.

Promotion disputes between programmers and distributors are nothing new – they are a routine hassle for traditional cable and satellite television customers. But until last year, these types of “blackouts” have been one of the ways that streaming contrasts with the aggravations of television’s past.

But last year they showed up with the launches of many big new streaming services, like both HBO Max and NBCUniversals Peacock, which cannot start with support for Roku. The recent stalemate between Roku and Google’s YouTube TV shows that even with long-running apps, both services and distributors can gain the upper hand as the momentum of power for the future of television evolves.

The tensions arise as streaming has become more popular than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, fueling a long trend for people to watch more videos over the internet. Streaming distributors like Roku and streaming programmers like YouTube both want to control the data, money, programming, and investigative tools that are at the heart of your streaming activities. Both sides want to consolidate their positions of power for the next era of television.

On Friday, YouTube said the service would be from YouTube TV available on its main YouTube app for Roku through an update that would be released “in the next few days”. Over time, this function will also be extended to “as many devices” as possible.

YouTube continues to work with Roku to reach an agreement, the company added. However, Google is also having separate discussions with other partners about the possible securing of free streaming devices “in the event that YouTube TV members encounter access problems with Roku”. In essence, this means that Google is considering sending free streaming gadgets from a rival to Roku to YouTube TV customers if access to the service on Roku continues to be interrupted.

(Google itself is a Roku hardware rival. Its Chromecast streaming devices compete with Roku, making Google both a partner and a competitor in various areas of its business.)

Roku first warned customers of possible disruptions in viewing YouTube TV on their devices in late April, claiming that YouTube’s demands in negotiating a new distribution deal were an abuse of Google’s market power. Google denied the allegations, saying they were negotiating in good faith with Roku. When the previous contract expired last week without a new agreement, Roku removed the YouTube TV app from its channel store, but cut off access to YouTube TV on its devices.

Google said in October that YouTube TV has more than 3 million subscribers. That number is dwarfed by the more than 2 billion people who watch YouTube’s main video service. Most YouTube renditions are viewed on mobile devices, however, and YouTube TV, although much smaller, is the type of service most viewed on TVs, often through a streaming device like Roku.


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