For months, Roku and Google have been engaged in contract negotiations over the fate of YouTube on Roku’s platform.
Specifically, those include demands that Roku turn over vast amounts of consumer data related to what Roku users watch on their devices, manipulate otherwise neutral consumer search results in favor of YouTube videos, and install more expensive parts on its devices, which would drive up the cost.
The email from the Google executive to Roku reads: ‘YouTube Position: A dedicated shelf for YT search results is a must.’ A YouTube spokesperson, Mariana De Felice, declined to comment on the email, but said partners like Roku are allowed to rank search results for YouTube ‘as they wish.’.
Google’s demands of Roku seem par for the course with how the company does business with smaller competitors: demand terms designed not only to give Google maximum positioning, but to do so while forcing companies to override their users’ preferences while kicking a competitor in the teeth.
By forcing Roku to turn over proprietary user search data as a condition of hosting YouTube on its platform, Google will undermine Roku’s ability to compete with it; the equivalent of contractually demanding your opponent hand over his gun, only to turn around and shoot him with it.
If Google prevails over Roku — that is, if Roku concedes to Google because it decides it cannot survive without providing access to YouTube — it won’t be because Google unleashed some ingenious new innovation that out-competed Roku on the merits.
And it won’t be because Roku users demanded or even wanted Google products to be prioritized.
It will simply be because Google has the power to force Roku to accede to its demands, regardless of what its users want.
The dispute between Google and Roku traces the now-familiar outlines of the predatory dominance concerns that tech competitors and users have been bringing to Congress for years now: that Big Tech companies have the market power to force competitors to put the preferences of Big Tech companies ahead of the preferences of their own users.