March 24, 2023

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Google agreement saves Roku from heading the same way as Windows Phone

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Roku announces last-minute extension with Google

A major issue for Roku has been averted, after the brand confirmed it had reached a ‘multi-year’ agreement with Google to let the YouTube app remain on its Roku Store.

The two sides had been deadlocked in disagreement over the continued availability of the YouTube app for new Roku users – those that already had downloaded would be able to continue to use it. Losing direct access to YouTube is not the best look for a company trying to lead the streaming revolution.

Image credit: Roku

However, the two brands “have agreed to a multi-year extension with Google for YouTube and YouTube TV. This agreement represents a positive development for our shared customers, making both YouTube and YouTube TV available for all streamers on the Roku platform.”

The reason for the original disagreement, which would have seen YouTube disappear as an app on December 9, is still rather murky – in Roku’s press release, the brand states that it wasn’t about money, but about Google’s insistence on the features that Roku must support, and its placement in Roku’s Channel Store:

“There are two primary concerns we are working to address: First, Google continues to interfere with Roku’s independent search results, requiring that we preference YouTube over other content providers. 

“This is a concern shared by many companies who believe that customers deserve neutral and relevant results to their search queries. Second, Google discriminates against Roku by demanding search, voice, and data features that they do not insist on from other streaming platforms.”

The cautionary tale of Windows Phone

This isn’t the first time Google has reached a disagreement with a major brand over the use of its apps – Windows Phone was launched to much fanfare by Microsoft in the early 2010s, and users initially loved that the YouTube app shed ads and allowed videos to be downloaded.

Google didn’t like this stripping of a revenue stream, especially as Windows Phone was building momentum, and forced the app down. It was re-enabled, with the ads back and downloading capability removed, but was taken down two days later after the two parties disagreed on the use of the new HTML 5 format… and it never returned.

While far from the only app missing from the Windows Phone platform, YouTube’s left a huge utility hole, as users needed to head to the mobile site to engage with Google’s popular video content, while the Android and iOS versions of the platform offered slick and impressive functionality.

Even with the agreement in place, we’ve yet to see what this ‘multi-year extension’ will actually bring – has Roku conceded to let the app appear towards the top of the search listings? Will the search and data capabilities be upgraded? Regardless, keeping the YouTube and YouTube TV apps on the Store will help the popular platform remain attractive to new customers.

This is especially important as the holiday season approaches and families settle down to movies in front of the TV – having a strong proposition that will also allow them to browse popular YouTube content is key to the continued success of Roku.

By Gareth Beavis

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