Roku warns users may lose access to YouTube TV

The logo of YouTube TV. (Logo: Google/Image: The Desk)

Roku is warning users of its streaming television hardware that they may have to go without access to YouTube TV soon.

In a letter sent to customers on Monday, Roku blamed YouTube TV operator Google for an impending dispute that could see the YouTube TV app removed from Roku’s Channel Store.

“Recent negotiations with Google to carry YouTube TV have broken down because Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms as we believe they could harm our users,” the letter sent to Roku’s customers said.

Roku did not say when the YouTube TV app could be dropped from its platform.

YouTube TV is a subscription-based streaming TV service that offers live cable channels through the Internet starting at $65 a month. The company has programming deals with many of the country’s leading broadcasters, including Comcast, Fox Corporation, the Walt Disney Company, Discovery Communications, AMC Networks and AT&T WarnerMedia.

Roku blamed Google’s “monopoly power” as the reason why the app may soon be removed from the Roku Channel store. But the hardware company may share some blame: When it started offering streaming devices, Roku championed itself as an open platform that would welcome anyone willing to develop an app for its hardware.

But in recent years, Roku has taken several plays out of the cable and satellite playbook, demanding app developers acquiesce to certain terms that offer certain financial benefits to the hardware maker in exchange for distribution in its official Channel Store, which is the only way for apps to be installed on Roku devices.

The strategy has allowed Roku to sell its streaming TV hardware on the cheap while leveraging its broad user base to negotiate deals that gives it additional revenue streams. But it has also frustrated customers who are sometimes unable to access certain streaming apps: A dispute between Roku and Comcast kept users from streaming Peacock when it debuted last year, and a similar dispute kept AT&T’s HBO Max off the platform for months.

In this case, Roku says Google is demanding unrealistic terms over how search results are displayed within Roku’s ecosystem and wants to control certain hardware specs when it comes to Roku’s devices.

Roku said concerned users should contact Google directly with their feedback.

Should Roku pull YouTube TV from its platform, subscribers have a few options: They can wait things out and hope both companies quickly come to an agreement, or they can pick up a cheap streamer that runs on a different platform.

A few backup streaming options include the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite ($30 at Amazon, $30 at Best Buy), the TiVo Stream 4K ($36 at Amazon), the old-school Chromecast dongle ($30 at Best Buy) and the next-generation Chromecast with Google TV ($50 at Best Buy), all of which support YouTube TV.

Thanks for reading and supporting The Desk. If you have a question, comment or news tip, send a message by email or text, or connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Also, check out our new membership service The Desk: Pro Access for exclusive reporting, news scoops and in-depth analysis.