Dispute between Roku and Google places YouTube TV users in the crosshairs

Television streaming service Roku and tech giant Google are in the middle of a contract dispute that might turn people who use Google’s YouTube TV into innocent bystanders. 

Customers who use YouTube TV might lose access to the app because “recent negotiations with Google to carry YouTube TV have broken down because Roku cannot accept Google’s unfair terms,” Roku told its users in an email Monday. Google is the parent of YouTube and YouTube TV. 

Both sides stand to lose millions of viewers if an agreement isn’t reached. YouTube TV, which launched in 2017, had more than 3 million users as of last October. Roku has more than 51 million users

Roku did not give specifics on the new contract both sides are negotiating, saying only that the terms as presented are unfair. Roku claims Google is trying to manipulate users’ search data while they use the YouTube TV app, a change that will “impact the usage of your data and ultimately cost you more,” the email to customers said.

“Google is attempting to use its YouTube monopoly position to force Roku into accepting predatory, anti-competitive and discriminatory terms that will directly harm Roku and our users,” a Roku spokesperson said Monday. 

Google has asked Roku to implement new memory cards in its devices that would raise the price of the hardware, Axios reported. Google has also asked Roku to block YouTube TV users’ search history from other, competing streaming services, according to Axios. 

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Google on Monday denied claims that it’s seeking to control and limit user data, alleging that Roku decided “to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations,” a YouTube TV spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. 

“Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations,” the YouTube spokesperson said. “All of our work with them has been focused on ensuring a high quality and consistent experience for our viewers. We have made no requests to access user data or interfere with search results.” 

Roku waving the “monopoly” red flag comes just months after dozens of states have filed antitrust lawsuits against Google, alleging that the company has an illegal monopoly over the online search market that hurts consumers and advertisers. The suits also claim that Google discriminates against specialized search providers that provide travel, home repair and entertainment services, and denies access to its search-advertising management tool, SA360, to competitors such as Bing.

Google has discredited the lawsuits, calling one of them “deeply flawed” and in a lengthy statement claimed the suits “would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”