Why is new television so much like cable?

For Exhibit A, I point you to the recent dispute between Google’s YouTube and Roku, which makes devices for connecting televisions to online video applications. Their problem is tricky, but the upshot was that Roku threatened to block one of YouTube’s apps and Google threatened to ship free alternative streaming devices to Roku customers. Each side said the other was a bully.

A version of this fight keeps happening. When Amazon and the owner of HBO argued over money and data control over people’s viewing habits, people for months were unable to watch HBO Max on Amazon’s Fire TV video streaming device or through the Amazon’s Prime Video app. The same thing almost happened in a dispute between NBC’s Peacock video service and Roku.

How wild is how familiar it feels. Programming problems and temporary blackouts are exactly what old television has worked for decades. Cable TV, and now the new TV app stores, don’t have standard terms, so it’s all a close bargain.

Think about it: ESPN is on your cable list because of a complicated contract that is established every few years between the channel’s owner, Walt Disney, and Comcast or another provider. If the two sides reach a contract deadlock, college football could disappear from your TV for a while. Repeat for each channel of the dial.

As with cable TV, Amazon, Roku, and their peers often enter into individual contracts with streaming services after negotiations over the fees the streaming app might pay, whether Amazon or Roku show commercials on. another company’s video app or minutiae of how a streaming app works. .

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