Alphabet and Google chief Sundar Pichai. Photo by Bloomberg
The Briefing

The Briefing: Roku Goes Up Against Google

Photo: Alphabet and Google chief Sundar Pichai. Photo by Bloomberg

If there ever was a time when small companies feared going public with their complaints about big tech, that time has passed. We saw that last week when Spotify and Tile complained to Congress about how Apple wields its power. And it was demonstrated again today when Roku sent a note to customers informing them that they might lose access to YouTube TV, Google’s $65 a month streaming package of cable channels, because Google was misusing its “monopoly power” and trying to impose “unfair terms” on Roku. In revenue terms, Roku is 1% of Google’s size, making this a mouse vs. elephant battle.

For all that, it’s not immediately obvious that this is an example of a big tech company trying to squeeze the life out of a tiny one. Despite its size, Google stands to lose far more if YouTube TV disappears from Roku. YouTube TV had three million subscribers last time Google disclosed the figure. Roku, on the other hand, had 51 million active accounts at the end of December. Roku could drop YouTube TV and not blink. Google, on the other hand, would lose access to one of the main conduits for streaming video. YouTube TV is effectively a mirror of similar services such as Hulu with Live TV or even old-fashioned cable. Losing distribution on Roku would be a big problem.

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