UPDATE: In an email sent to its userbase on April 30, Roku announced that Google has decided to let the contract between the two tech giants expire. That means new YouTube TV users won’t be able to access the service on Roku. Read more here.
Does the dispute between Roku and YouTube TV have you worried about your live TV streaming setup?
On Monday, Roku sent shockwaves through the cord-cutting community by sending a strongly-worded email to its userbase, warning of a potential breakup with popular live streaming TV service YouTube TV.
“There are no good guys in these fights,” money expert Clark Howard says.
“And in these fights, we’re always just the pawns. As consumers, we’re treated like garbage in these deals.”
In this article, I’ll fill you in on what Roku’s letter said and try to interpret what it may mean for streamers. Then, with Clark’s help, I’ll lay out a plan of action for Roku and YouTube TV customers.
What Roku’s Letter to Users Said About YouTube TV
In case you didn’t get a copy of this emailed letter from Roku, here’s what it looks like:
Yikes. That email hardly inspires confidence in the relationship between the streaming partners.
And it gets worse.
In a rebuttal to the letter, a YouTube TV spokesperson offered Axios the following comment:
“We have been working with Roku in good faith to reach an agreement that benefits our viewers and their customers.
“Unfortunately, Roku often engages in these types of tactics in their negotiations. We’re disappointed that they chose to make baseless claims while we continue our ongoing negotiations.”
This sounds bad. But keep in mind that these companies are in the midst of tense negotiations that are worth millions.
So even a short-term spurt of bad publicity may be worth it if they both get what they want in the end.
What Streamers Should Take Away From Roku’s Letter
Are you confused by all of this bickering?
Money expert Clark Howard made some sense out of all this nonsense on a recent episode of his podcast.
You can listen to his initial thoughts here, but also read on for some tips I got from Clark in a one-on-one discussion after this recording.
Clark compares these negotiations to that of a strike.
“The two of them are going to say nasty things about each other and YouTube TV may even go dark for a while on Roku devices,” Clark says.
“But when one side or the other hurts enough, they’ll likely make a deal.”
Some Things To Consider About the Letter
With that in mind, here are some quick thoughts to consider as potential takeaways from Roku’s letter and YouTube TV’s rebuttal:
- A breakup may be looming: Roku is setting the stage for a potential breakup with YouTube TV. They have a contract that presumably expires soon, and the negotiations for a new deal are driving tensions. A breakup could put a lot of cord-cutters into an awkward predicament of choosing between two really popular services. (I have some more advice on this later in the article.)
- There’s a good chance an interruption would be temporary: As Clark mentioned on his podcast, there’s simply too much at stake for both of these companies for this to be a permanent rift.
- This is about revenue sharing: Roku negotiates a revenue-sharing agreement with every app that appears on its devices. This just happens to be one of the bigger negotiations it makes, so both sides need to make sure they get this right.
- YouTube TV wants primetime real estate on Roku menus and search bars: It appears YouTube TV wants placement and data access that reflects its strong presence in the market. Roku appears to believe that’s anti-competitive and presumably has concerns it could hurt existing relationships with other major streaming services.
- Google could stand to benefit with new Chromecast: Remember, YouTube TV is owned by Google. And Google actually competes with Roku in the streaming device space via Google TV technology. In fact, I recently reviewed the latest Chromecast with Google TV and found it to be a user experience that rivals Roku in many areas. This rift could be an opportunity to drive more people to its product where it can control the environment completely.
Steps Streamers Can Take in the Meantime
While these two digital media giants fight things out, we can be proactive in thinking ahead for our next steps.
I enlisted Clark for some help on assembling a checklist for streamers who could be affected by a disruption of YouTube TV on Roku devices.
1. Pick A Side: Streaming Service vs. Streaming Device
No, I don’t necessarily mean you should decide who is right and who is wrong in this disagreement (though, of course, you’re free to form an opinion).
What I mean is that you need to decide which is more important to you if YouTube TV is no longer offered on Roku streaming devices.
If you own four Roku televisions in your home, the answer likely is that you’re sticking with Roku through thick and thin. That means you’ll probably be shopping for a new streaming service if an agreement can’t be reached.
“Roku has done such a good job of becoming native on so many of the newer TVs,” Clark says.
“For some people, it’s not really a choice. What are you going to do? Get an Amazon Fire Stick and put it in your Roku TV or something?
But let’s say you’re a Roku streaming dongle user who has hours of DVR content saved on YouTube TV and enjoys all the channels you get for $65 per month. Switching from a Roku streaming stick to an Amazon Fire TV stick seems like a small price to pay to keep your streaming life intact.
2. Start Shopping YouTube TV’s Competitors
One of the best things about cutting the cord from traditional cable is that you have freedom of choice when a streaming service does something that you don’t like.
In spite of being widely considered one of the top live TV streaming services on the market, many people have left YouTube TV in recent years due to issues like price increases and disputes with TV channel providers.
And most of them have found a streaming setup that works for their households without YouTube TV.
“YouTube TV is one of the most expensive streaming services out there,” Clark says.
“Use this as a trigger to look at cheaper streaming services to see if the channels that really matter to you are available at a lower cost.”
Also, YouTube TV allows you to pause your service for up to six months at no cost, so you can shop around while still holding on to your DVR library and user preferences.
Team Clark has articles that compare YouTube TV directly to each of those services so that you can make a strong decision if you need to change:
3. Start Shopping Roku’s Competitors
If you’re using Roku via one of its popular streaming dongles, it may actually be easier for you to change streaming devices than it is to change streaming services.
This is a competitive marketplace that has quality products from big tech companies including Amazon, Apple and Google.
Team Clark has a comparison article available for the Roku Express and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick that can help you understand the key differences between the two.
In addition to the Fire TV stick, here are articles on some similarly-priced devices that may be worth checking out:
If you’re a Roku TV user with the Roku interface built into your television, making a switch would be much more costly. You may want to consider switching streaming services instead.
4. Weigh the Value of Existing Long-Term Commitments to Streaming Services
Advice you get from Clark Howard and Team Clark is almost always to get the best price possible on things that are important to your life.
That remains true in this case, but this dispute can serve as a reminder that flexibility sometimes has a financial value of its own.
Getting into a long-term agreement with a streaming service could leave you vulnerable to corporate spats like this one. And that could end with you losing access to your content on the devices you stream with most often.
YouTube TV requires only a month-to-month payment for its best price, so in this case, you’re going to be fine — no matter the decision you have to make.
But other streaming services offer bundle and discount pricing for longer commitments. For example, Disney+ charges $79.99 for a full year of access. If you decide to pay monthly instead (at $7.99/month), you’ll end up paying nearly $16 more over the course of the year.
The spat between Roku and YouTube TV makes for some grabby headlines, but its impact will vary from streamer to streamer.
If YouTube TV goes dark on Roku, some people will simply move from one streaming source to the next and continue enjoying the content elsewhere.
Others may need to start shopping for a new live TV streaming service, whether that’s a big service that’s comparably priced to YouTube TV or other smaller — but cheaper — services.
Either way, Clark says this is an opportunity to take inventory of your streaming habits and explore new opportunities that could help your wallet.
“Don’t just look at this as a potential piece-of-crap disruption in your life,” Clark says.
“Instead, look at it as an opportunity to look at shaking up what you’re doing. You may be able to save yourself some serious money as a result.”
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