Roku Drops YouTube TV App in Carriage Dispute

Streaming device-maker

Roku Inc.

ROKU -3.80%

removed the YouTube TV app from its channel store Friday, the latest example of media carriage disputes entering the streaming era.

The blackout makes the YouTube TV app, which lets subscribers watch dozens of live-TV channels online for a monthly fee, unavailable to Roku users who haven’t yet downloaded it. Existing YouTube TV subscribers on Roku will be able to keep using it, and the more popular free YouTube app remains available for download, a Roku spokesman said.

Roku and other streaming-device makers have become the streaming era’s gatekeepers, and spats with streaming services and live-TV internet bundles echo the carriage disputes between cable carriers and their channels. Roku is the largest streaming-device maker in the U.S., accounting for 38% of the U.S. streaming-media player market, according to research firm Parks Associates.

At the center of the dispute between Roku and YouTube TV’s parent,

Alphabet Inc.’s

Google, is the way search results are displayed on Roku’s platform, which Roku says Google is looking to manipulate—a claim that Google denies. Google also wants Roku to upgrade its hardware to accommodate larger memory requirements, less buffering and faster startup, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We have only asked Google for four simple commitments,” the Roku spokesman said. “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.”

Google never “made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results,” the company said Friday. “This claim is baseless and false.”

Google also said it encouraged “Roku not to remove the YouTube TV app so that existing users can continue enjoying the service.”

Roku’s previous disputes with media companies have kept popular streaming apps off its platform. Last year, standoffs with

Comcast Corp.’s

NBCUniversal and

AT&T Inc.’s

WarnerMedia prevented Peacock and HBO Max from being available on Roku’s devices until months after their initial launch.

The launch of Disney+ has brought a bit of magic to a company whose stock had taken a nosedive after the coronavirus shut down theme parks and movie theaters. WSJ explains how Disney’s streaming platform has become a top competitor in an already crowded field. Photo illustration: Jacob Reynolds/WSJ

Write to Patience Haggin at [email protected]

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