Across many years of covering our increasingly fractured media landscape, there’s really just one thing that’s given us some true hope for the triumph of the human spirit over the rampant rise of cold corporate logic: The continued existence of the petty-ass “Just LOOK what your father is making me do!” energy that pervades any big conflict between content studios and the service providers who carry their work to the masses. Once upon a time, you would have seen this fight play out between the networks and the cable providers, with the likes of DirecTV and Viacom running massive ad buys to pull guilt trips on each other via their audience, with all the subtlety of two parents navigating to get the kids at their place for the first Christmas after the divorce.
Now, though, this kind of battle is far more likely to break out between streaming services and the companies who make the media boxes sitting in so many of our homes—and especially Roku, which seems to get into one of these pissing matches (with Peacock, or HBO Max, etc.) every couple of months. Which leads us to this week, as things are now getting increasingly “I swear to god, I just can’t with this person” between the set-top box company and Google, over the inclusion of the latter’s YouTube TV in its list of carried “channels”.
The details of this are a little on the technical side—Roku’s mad that Google is demanding changes to its technical specs to support its content, while also accusing the data company of juking its search results to control how content gets served up to users—but we just can’t resist the drama. “We are disappointed that Google has allowed our agreement for the distribution of YouTube TV to expire,” Roku said in a statement this week, wielding the passive voice like a scalpel. Roku, it adds, “has not asked for one dollar of additional financial consideration from Google to renew YouTube TV.” Not one dollar, you hear?
But YouTube/Google responded to this mounting of the barricades of principle with one of its own, penning a blog post this weekend accusing Roku of negotiating in bad faith, and reminding users that the billion-dollar mega-corp has only one concern in all this: How you’re feeling, bud. “The most important thing for us is to make sure you are taken care of, and that the experience of our shared users is a good one…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.” And Frank, that new guy who was at breakfast last Saturday? Frank is just Google’s special friend.
As professional watchers of the media landscape/children of divorce ourselves, our advice to current Roku subscribers is simple: Milk this thing, baby. We smell a dirt bike and a PlayStation in the offing, at minimum.