Google Takes Issue With Roku’s YouTube Channel

Dave Zatz —  April 21, 2011 — 28 Comments

roku-youtube

While Roku doesn’t offer an officially sanctioned YouTube channel, many of us have been enjoying that content through a “private” offering created by The Nowhereman. In fact, he’s such an exceptional developer, Roku brought him on as an employee (where he’s known as Chris). Yet that puts them in an even more awkward position now that Google has taken issue with the unlicensed YouTube channel.

A blog comment tipped me off to the situation, that I confirmed on the forum… The YouTube channel remains functional for the folks who’ve previously activated it, yet no new subscribers are permitted. I reached out to Roku who also corroborated the situation, saying “we received a takedown notice from YouTube’s legal team and are in the midst of negotiations with them.” They’re hopeful of having more information to share with the community next week.

I can’t say this comes as any surprise. Some of the best channels and content provided through the Roku media streamer exist without their owners knowledge or consent. Having moved over a million units and entered the brick & mortar retail space, Roku’s customer base exceeds the geeky and industry crowd these days. Meaning, many are blissfully unaware of content licensing complexities and Roku’s tacit endorsement of repurposing web video without a deal. Which has led to some interesting conversations on the company-run discussion board. For example, one member wondered how he might record Roku content and was scolded by the forum police:

you can’t legally record streaming content from the box. Roku’s forum isn’t the appropriate place to discuss illegal methods.

An excerpt of my reply:

That’s a pretty broad generalization and there are a variety of digital media scenarios that haven’t yet been legally tested. Incidentally, I’ve uploaded a number of videos to YouTube… which you can view through Roku’s non-sanctioned YouTube app. Yet no advertising revenue can be generated for me via that method. So who’s swiping whose content at that point? ;)

Additionally, some interesting assumptions:

The stuff you’re referring to [NCAA, HGTV, CNN] is made available for free via the web- the channels you’re questioning are just passing it thru to the Roku, presented identically as they were on the web. There’s no “stealing” going on if it’s already free to all all to stream.

And my counter:

I didn’t claim it was stealing. However, it is subverting the content from its intended purpose and I’m willing to bet many of those providers have language which prohibits that. And online content is rarely free for all to stream – there’s advertising material that surrounds the video, whatever metrics they choose to run, regional restrictions, etc. Roku may be too small or these providers may not care.

On an intellectual level, it’s all quite fascinating. But, as a customer, it’s more likely quite frustrating. The bottom line here… If YouTube is on your must-have list, buy a WDTV, Apple TV, or TiVo.

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28 responses to Google Takes Issue With Roku’s YouTube Channel

  1. I wish companies would focus more on creating value for their customers than taking legal action.

    In contrast to Youtube, it’s interesting that Google has made it super easy for anyone to display their ads. Shouldn’t they do the same thing for things like YouTube. They are missing a great revenue opportunity and a way to extend their audience. Hopefully, it will be easy for Roku to add the channel with Google’s approval.

    Also, some blu-ray players such as the LG have Youtube clients as well.

  2. YouTube, like other content providers, needs to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. If you deliver content through RSS or some other open API, you have to expect that developers are going to create new and creative ways for consumers to explore and consume your content. If Roku’s app is unsanctioned, how about PlayOn or apps for other platforms that incorporate YouTube content?

  3. Funny you should mention PlayOn. Hulu had Roku remove the PlayOn app(s) prior to the official Hulu Plus Channel arriving.

  4. When I feel like watching YouTube on my TV, which I admit isn’t very often, Roku is my device of choice since it works and displays videos in HD. TiVo has an official YouTube app which I believe was a first for a consumer device, but it’s buggy, extremely outdated and can’t display HD YouTube videos in HD (which is odd).

    I used to watch YouTube on my Sony Bravia via the Internet adapter, but it broke. That was in HD.

  5. Since the title is “Google Takes Issue With Roku’s YouTube Channel” where is Google response or “take”???

  6. YouTube is a Google property and, as I wrote above, Roku’s spokesperson had this to say to me yesterday, “we received a takedown notice from YouTube’s legal team and are in the midst of negotiations with them.” Suppose I could reword the title to something like YouTube’s Legal Team Takes Issue With Roku Channel. I’ll think about it.

  7. Sorry, but if the unofficial YouTube app simply used YouTube’s RSS feed, and if Roku is just an open-source box, then couldn’t someone else create an unofficial YouTube app? In other words, isn’t the genie already out of the bottle?

  8. True, the genie is somewhat out of the bottle… Google once used to have an “open” API which they shut down in favor of working deals and forced others to remove access. Google has all the leverage – it’s their content and most manufacturers would rather work it out than take it on legally. I will say the Roku YouTube app seems far more sophisticated than simply scraping a RSS feed.

    Here’s older coverage on YouTube being yanked from Popcorn Hour:

    “manufacturers streaming directly via the API as Popcorn Hour did are no longer welcome without cutting a seven figure check to license access. “

  9. Funny coincidence… Rick Klau, an all around good guy who also happens to work at YouTube, posted some Google account security guidelines on his personal blog today. Although I don’t recall if the Roku app even collects a password – think it just optionally links public playlists of specific users.

  10. This is interesting knowing YouTube still has pirated videos on YouTube. So Google is no better than those hated content providers.

  11. So a new blu-ray player is the best way to officially get streaming Netflix and YouTube content onto a TV (as well as regular NetFlix discs)?

    Is there a nice $100 streaming only solution? Or just wait a couple of months to see if Roku will license a deal with Google?

  12. Robert, the WDTV and Apple TV both feature YouTube and run under $100. However, I’d really like to see Roku work something out with Google.

    As an update, a Roku employee has just chimed in on their forums:
    “In short, at the request of YouTube, the private channel is no longer available on Roku.”

    And they’ve also spoken with GigaOm:
    “We clearly would like to have a YouTube channel available for all of our customers.”

  13. “Google once used to have an “open” API which they shut down in favor of working deals and forced others to remove access … manufacturers streaming directly via the API as Popcorn Hour did are no longer welcome without cutting a seven figure check to license access.”

    Regarding YouTube access, Google is being, well, evil…

  14. I suspect they’ll work this out in the end, but tis definitely a case of Google not exactly embracing their ‘open’… Kinda stupid. But as long as an official app shows up in the end it won’t much matter, and I suspect it will.

    Honestly the most likely way for me to watch a Youtube app on my HDTV would be if AirPlay worked in the Google Youtube app on my iPhone/iPad. But of course it doesn’t. Not sure whether they’ll ever enable it now or not…

  15. I’m not so sure. Based on this screengrab from 2/09 I suspect Google and Roku were walking down the aisle at some point… when someone got cold feet. Not sure if it’s a cost thing, a platform thing, or something else. We shall see.

  16. AppleTV was great for watching YouTube until the last update. Now subscription do not appear with the videos in chronological order (it just lists them randomly). This is not good if you follow a particular vlog or show and want to see the newest videos. Since this last update it has been completely useless.

  17. It seems like a cost problem. Google is fine with every other device know to man.

    Someone else was saying it was the case of Roku not meeting Google’s specs. Roku were using MP4 and some of Google’s advertising wasn’t showing. They don’t like it when you mess with their ads, which makes sense.

  18. They don’t like it when you mess with their ads, which makes sense.

    @ Clints statement above.
    Dont know if that was done on purpose, but it was a good one!! I hear so much about You Tube Partnerships and Google Adsense Accts these days that it could Gag a Maggot. Now the You Tubers only care is getting the Partnership and Money in ther AdSense accts. BS Contests to increase Subscribers, BS Videos that are a waste of time, all to make the Google Adsense Mighty Dollar. I wonder how long before Google sees they are tearing down their own moneymaker thru greed. (I guess when you arec worth Billions and Billions you can ride anything out!!). I certainly find myself spending less and less time on YouTube. But then again, thats just me!!!

  19. It doesn’t make any sense blocking access to YouTube from set top boxes when any one can access it online thru computer. Google should see this as a business opportunity and grant roku the access asap. Most of us have bought roku for youtube videos and roku also should take this serious and work with Google to restore it before its shares go down in the market.

  20. @John – re: your comment: “AppleTV was great for watching YouTube until the last update.” We got in touch with Apple and verified that they have addressed the sorting issues you identified; they should be fixed with the next update.

    –Rick Klau
    (a PM at YouTube)

  21. The cool thing about the Roku channel vs. the Apple TV version is that the Roku channel works much better. When you do a search on the ATV a lot of stuff seems to be blocked. They show up fine on the Roku.

  22. Unhappy Roku Customer May 16, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wow, I was just in the midst of reinstalling the Youtube channel as i had to do a factory reset, and I must say, I am really disappointed.
    I guess Google are no better than those two-bit greedy companies, I mean with firefox extensions like adblock plus, nobody has to watch their adds. (Read – If you already don’t have it, download firefox and install adblock plus, stick it back to google) If it’s such a problem, why not make YouTube incompatible with any browser with adblock plus?
    The YouTube channel was one of my favorite highlights of my Roku box, and google had to go and screw that up.

  23. TiVo’s own “compatibility” with YouTube has been broken for more than 2 years. Playlists don’t work. This has been reported ad nauseum to them and they just don’t seem to care or be able to fix it.

    http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/showthread.php?t=441132

    There’s no way to watch the videos I want to watch, without having to manually search for them every. single. time. How inelegant, inefficient and sad.

    What is with TiVo, anyway? They introduce a feature and never seem to stick with it’s development and improvement cycle. Their Netflix implementation sucks too.

  24. I applauded Google for their free apps, I am a long time supporter and have supported moves like pulling out of china when content was censored. I am extremely disappointed that they would even consider this move when promoting them selves as a free provider. Instead I would like them to embrace free content and work to continue to support new innovative developers. I for one will watch to see whether or not I need to look for a new open source provider if Google has chosen “to be to big” to support their peers. 2/3rds of job creation comes from small business so maybe they are now two big to embrace. Bumber!!

  25. My family can not enjoy our Great YouTube videos and my sister uses it for songs it’s her dream so don’t take it away ROKU and I know it’s Googles fault and it’s very helpful but we can not enjoy YouTube on our Ruku 2 so please give it back. We would appreciate if we can live our dreams and have fun. And thanks and honestly google shouldn’t have taken it away every one uses it.

  26. Raterix was my favorite channel from roku! Google is a greedy company! I wil be deleting them from my computer and returning my roku’s!

  27. Christina, why are you blaming Roku? Irrational much?

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    Simple but very precise information… Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read post!

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