Roku vs. YouTube TV: Untangling the a cord-cutting carriage dispute

Roku vs. YouTube TV: Untangling the a cord-cutting carriage dispute

Earlier this week, some YouTube TV subscribers awoke to an alarming email from Roku, telling them that Google might take away their access to the live TV streaming service.

In the email, Roku essentially accused Google of being a bully, using anticompetitive tactics to manipulate search results, increase costs, and affect how their data is used. Roku then proceeded to make its case to the press, describing a list of seemingly outlandish demands that Google had made as a condition of keeping YouTube TV on the platform. The ostensible goal was to create a public outrage, both among users and a government that’s increasingly wary of big tech monopolies.

Initially, I bought into it myself. But after looking more closely at Roku’s claims—and Google’s subsequent denials—it’s clear that both companies are stretching the truth to suit their own purposes. Instead of being about one company bullying another, this is really a case of two large corporations battling a petty game of inches, one in which users get jerked around the most.

Roku’s side of the story

Below is a paraphrased summary of everything Roku is claiming in this dispute—best summarized in this Axios story—along with my best attempts to suss out what’s actually happening:

Roku says: Google forced us to add a dedicated search results row for YouTube.

This appears to have already happened. Try searching for a movie or show on Roku, and if you scroll down enough, you’ll find a dedicated strip of YouTube results at the bottom.

rokuyoutubesearch Jared Newman / IDG

YouTube gets its own row on Roku’s search results page, but you must click down a few times to find it.

In theory it would be bad if every video app got its own row of search results like this, but YouTube is sort of a special case in terms of the content it offers. Many of the things you search for on YouTube are unlikely to show up elsewhere; besides, the results are so out of the way I never noticed them until I consciously looked for them.

Roku says: For voice searches that start inside YouTube, Google wants to block results from other apps.

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