Roku Gets Support from Congress in Fight Against Google

Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. (Image credit: Amy Klobuchar)

In the eyes of Congressional lawmakers, Roku's dominant position in connected TV and its $43 billion market capitalization don't qualify the Silicon Valley company as a "dominant digital platform" and a "gatekeeper."

But as it engages in an escalating battle with Google, being the little guy is probably just fine right now with Roku, which found Congressional support Thursday in its fight with a far mightier tech adversary (market cap over $1.8 trillion).

Also read: Google Says Its Big YouTube App Could Be Removed From the Roku Channel Store on Dec. 9

"Roku’s claim that Google requires the company to preference YouTube content over that of other providers in Roku’s search results highlights why we need new laws to prevent dominant digital platforms from abusing their power as gatekeepers," wrote Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in a statement published Thursday. 

Klobuchar used the issue to promote bipartisan legislation she introduced along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, aimed at curtailing the "anticompetitive conduct" of Big Tech, American Innovation and Choice Online Act.

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., took to Twitter to also tie the Roku-v.-Google issue to his support for the same legislation, which he authored. 

"This is the exact type of shakedown that my bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, would stop," Cicilline tweeted. "We cannot allow Big Tech to continue to throw its weight around, bully other businesses, and harm consumers. This must end. #ReinInBigTech."

The skirmish between Roku and Google first emerged in April, when an agreement to support virtual pay TV app YouTube TV expired, and the app was taken out of the Roku Channel Store. The fight escalated Thursday, when Google indicated that its support deal with Roku for the flagship YouTube app was also set to expire on Dec. 9. 

If Roku and Google can't reach an agreement by that date, a connected TV app that garners as much use as Netflix will no longer be able for downloaded on a connected TV platform that serves more than 55 million active users. (Google did say that Roku users who already have the YouTube app downloaded will continue to be able to use it.)

So what's the fight all about?

In a blog posting published Thursday, Roku accused Google of continuing "to interfere with Roku’s independent search results, requiring that we preference YouTube over other content providers."

In its own post, Google responded, "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.”

However, an 2019 email, said to be from Google executives to their Roku counterparts, and intercepted and published Friday by CNBC, seems to refute that defense: “YouTube Position: A dedicated shelf for YT search results is a must," the email reads. 

A Google spokesperson responded that Roku is able to rank YouTube search results "as they wish."

Google has been more cagey about its position. However, an earlier report by tech publication Protocol suggested the fight was centered more around hardware. 

Google, the pub said, wants to migrate the streaming hardware ecosystem to support the AV1 video codec, which would ease YouTube's transition into a 4K world. Roku, which has built its market share by enticing smart TV OEM partners with low computer horsepower requirements to run its operating system, wants to keep the current hardware paradigm in place. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!