Roku/YouTube TV Contract Expires, But Roku Continues Access For Existing Subscribers

In an unusual twist in carriage dispute behavior, Roku has declared that it will for now continue to enable access to its customers who are existing subscribers to the YouTube TV livestreaming service, even though the agreement between the two players expired as of today.

On Friday morning, Roku emailed its YouTube TV customers to say that despite the contract’s expiration, it is “taking the extra step” to ”ensure existing Roku users like yourself retain access to YouTube TV while we work to reach an agreement.” 

Roku “will continue to offer existing users access to YouTube TV unless Google takes actions that require the full removal of the channel,” the message stated. “New subscribers will not be allowed at this time.  It is also important that you do not delete the YouTube TV app as it will not be available for download to Roku devices.”  

Roku also sent a message this morning to customers about its  removal of YouTube TV from Roku’s Channel Store, which precludes the app’s installation or reinstallation on Roku devices.

The YouTube TV situation does not affect Roku users’ access to the free YouTube app, which is under a separate distribution agreement.

Earlier this week, Roku emailed customers to warn them of the possibility that YouTube TV could go dark — accusing Google of engaging in anticompetitive behavior during renewal negotiations by making demands that Roku give YouTube TV preferential treatment in terms of access to consumer data and search results.

Roku elaborated on those claims in a statement released to press this morning after its customer messaging went out.

“Roku has not asked for one dollar of additional financial consideration from Google to renew YouTube TV,” the statement says. “We have only asked Google for four simple commitments. First, not to manipulate consumer search results. Second, not to require access to data not available to anyone else. Third, not to leverage their YouTube monopoly to force Roku to accept hardware requirements that would increase consumer costs. Fourth, not to act in a discriminatory and anticompetitive manner against Roku. “

After Roku’s messaging earlier this week, Google said that Roku’s claims are baseless, and that it had “made no requests to access user data or interfere with search results.” Google also stressed that it hopes to resolve the situation “for the sake of our mutual users.”

Update: Google has now posted a response to Roku's latest messages, in a message to customers on the YouTube blog. "As we post this, existing users still have access to YouTube TV on Roku devices," it states. "We encourage Roku not to remove the YouTube TV app so that existing users can continue enjoying the service."

YouTube also states: "Our initial conversations started with Roku simply to renew the current terms of their ongoing deal with YouTube TV, which has been in place for several years. Our offer to Roku was simple and still stands: renew the YouTube TV deal under the existing reasonable terms. However, Roku chose to use this as an opportunity to renegotiate a separate deal encompassing the YouTube main app, which does not expire until December.  Our agreements with partners have technical requirements to ensure a high quality experience on YouTube. Roku requested exceptions that would break the YouTube experience and limit our ability to update YouTube in order to fix issues or add new features. For example, by not supporting open-source video codecs, you wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if you bought a Roku device that supports that resolution. We can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users. To be clear, we have never, as they have alleged, made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results. This claim is baseless and false."

Both parties say they want to ensure that users will have continued access to YouTube TV.

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