The on-going feud between Roku and Google continued to intensify in recent days, with both companies now warning that the mega-popular traditional YouTube streaming app might be removed from the Roku app store when the current long-running contract between both companies expires Dec. 9, 2021.

“Google notified us that, unless we reach agreement on renewal terms prior to the expiration of our current agreement, we will not be able to offer YouTube on the Roku platform for new users,” Roku announced in an Oct. 21st blog on its web site. “While not surprising, this kind of blatant retaliation and monopoly conduct is likely why the U.S. Department of Justice and 30 State Attorneys General are investigating Google for violating fair competition laws. Google’s actions are designed to stifle competition and harm consumers which is why there is broad bipartisan support in Congress today to rein in monopoly abuses. We will continue to try to keep YouTube (and YouTube TV) available for Roku customers, and will provide updates as appropriate.”

Google responded publicly: “Since our negotiations with Roku earlier this year, we’ve continued to work with them to find a resolution that benefits our mutual users. Roku has once again chosen to make unproductive and baseless claims rather than try to work constructively with us. Since we haven’t been able to continue our conversations in good faith, our partnership for all new Roku devices will unfortunately end on December 9. We are, however, giving Roku the ability to continue distributing both YouTube and YouTube TV apps to all existing users to make sure they are not impacted.”

The good news is that both companies have indicated that existing YouTube viewers who watch via the Roku platform will not lose their previously installed YouTube apps, for now.

But newcomers to Roku, and future Roku devices, will be unable to install the app through Roku after December 9th, unless some agreement is reached in the interim.

In short, if you have a Roku TV or a Roku device you use regularly today and have not installed or subscribed to either the standard free ad-supported, or paid-premium YouTube service tiers, you might want to do that now or risk having to add another device to watch YouTube content of any kind next year and beyond.

Sadly, the latest breakdown is nothing new.

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The friction between Roku and technology giant Google has a long rocky history. The YouTube app, which first came to the Roku player in 2013, was not available on Roku platforms for several years in the early days of the Roku streaming service/device ecosystem. Note that Roku also has also long prevented users of its platform from easily accessing open web browsers that would enable workarounds to receive YouTube or any other unsupported streaming apps without the use of a third-party device like a PC, gaming console or mobile device.

Since reaching an agreement a few years back, Roku and the standard YouTube service have co-existed, seemingly to the betterment of both companies, with YouTube serving as one of the most popular apps in the streaming media universe while Roku has become one of the world’s largest streaming platform developers and most successful AVoD service providers through its Roku Channel.

But tensions resurfaced in April, after Roku issued an email to many users of the secondary YouTube TV subscription-based live streaming video app it had been carrying warning the live-TV app would be leaving the Roku app store due to an impasse between the companies.

Roku alleged that Google was making unreasonable, unfair and noncompetitive demands for the continued use of YouTube TV, including allegedly requiring Roku to “manipulate” search results and user viewing data. Google was also allegedly demanding Roku make user voice searches, which are taken when the YouTube app was open, show only results of YouTube program recommendations, without allowing suggestions for content available outside the YouTube apps.

Roku also alleged that Google was dictating the use of specific hardware and storage chips Roku must install on its platforms, potentially raising hardware costs, to continue using its app beyond the contracted period.

As a result of the impasse, the YouTube TV live streaming app disappeared from the Roku app store, although existing subscribers to YouTube TV on the Roku platform have been able to continue using the previously installed YouTube TV app.

As the YouTube TV app disappeared from the Roku store, Google then updated its own standard YouTube app for Roku users, allowing new YouTube TV customers on Roku to subscribe to and view the YouTube TV service from inside the traditional YouTube app.

Last week the dispute escalated to the highly popular standard YouTube app service. Roku issued a blog on its web site updating customers that no progress has been made between the two companies while warning that Google allegedly continues to use its powerful position as a content distributor to make extraordinary demands of Roku.

Especially relevant during recent anti-trust directives from President Biden, Roku in May challenged that Google was allegedly acting as an “unchecked monopolist” by using its power to force unreasonable terms on third parties, like Roku.

Google has called Roku’s anti-trust accusations “baseless and false” and denies asking Roku for its user data.

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By Greg Tarr

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