How Video Streaming Could Become Even More Fractured

Arguing over the split

Key Takeaways

  • Roku and Google are currently butting heads on a deal that could cause YouTube TV to leave Roku devices.
  • Experts believe that Roku is trying to get its customer base involved to help push Google into accepting the deal without Roku meeting its demands.
  • There are growing concerns that programming blackouts could lead to even bigger fractures in the streaming community, which would hurt users even more.
Someone sitting in a dark room in front of multiple TV sets showing solid white screens.

MATJAZ SLANIC / Getty Images

If arguments between streaming giants like Roku and Google continue, experts worry it could lead to more fractured streaming access for users.

The future of YouTube TV on Roku is currently unclear following a public announcement from the streaming platform that Google is pushing "anti-competitive" demands upon it. According to Roku, Google is trying to force Roku to add preferential treatment in search results and more.

This is just one more in a list of negotiation issues that Roku and other streaming service platforms have run into since cord-cutting started becoming more popular. Experts say this current spat could lead to more public quarrels in the future.

"It reminds me of how carriage disputes play out with TV ads and billboards, trying to play a PR game and get customers to lobby private companies," Stephen Lovely, managing editor at CordCutting.com, told us in an email.

"That hasn't been all that common in platform/app disputes, so it'll be interesting to see if these sorts of negotiations start being played out in public more often."

Cracks in the Foundation

Cord-cutting used to be simple. The number of streaming services was more limited, with only a couple of subscriptions taking up the spot that cable and satellite TV had. Now, though, so many streaming services are available, you could end up paying more than you used to for cable just to access all the shows you want to watch.

And, you may have to worry about whether your streaming device can even access those services.

closeup of a hand holding a television remote with the TV in the background.

Sean Locke / EyeEm / Getty Images

This isn’t the first time that Roku users have been locked out of streaming apps—or been under the threat of it. The only difference this time is that Roku has made it more public, lashing out against Google by trying to rile up its customer base.

It’s not an unusual tactic, and it isn’t the first time we’ve seen issues between platforms and apps. It took AT&T six months to release HBOMax on Roku due to negotiations with the company, and we also saw similar negotiations taking a while when NBC launched Peacock. 

"Long term, I think the implication is that platform-app disputes are the new carriage disputes," Lovely explained.

Carriage disputes have been fairly common in the past, especially on cable and satellite television. These disputes happen when the companies behind the broadcasts and the cable providers can’t reach an agreement on the cost to retransmit the content to their customers. 

Most often, carriage disputes lead to programming blackouts of certain content on the affected channels. Roku and Fox came close to some programming issues back in 2020, but the two companies managed to cut a deal at the last moment.

Before, cord-cutting was a good way to avoid this, as having a streaming device gave you access to all the services you needed. But, if we start to see apps cherry-picking which platforms they are available on, it could lead to users having to purchase multiple streaming devices to access all the services they want—or risk being locked out.

A Bumpy Road Ahead

The concerns that these movements could effectively lead to content blackouts is something users need to pay attention to, especially if companies continue to bring the public into their negotiations, as Roku has this time around.

"That hasn't been all that common in platform/app disputes, so it'll be interesting to see if these sorts of negotiations start being played out in public more often."

As for the future of YouTube TV, Roku currently has the strongest hold on the streaming device market, with 39% of the market share being attributed to the platform in a 2019 report by Parker Associates.

Roku’s hold only continued to grow throughout 2020, and most likely will increase as we continue into 2021, too. If Google pulls YouTube TV, it would hurt the overall availability of the application, and could lead to users unsubscribing instead of picking up another streaming device to access the app.

"I'm not sure we'll see YouTube TV leave Roku, but it's absolutely possible," Lovely said. "I think it's easy to say that a deal eventually gets done here, by which I mean I don't think YouTube TV will leave Roku forever."

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