Google Yanks YouTube From Amazon Echo – Control Issue Or More Corporation On Corporation Violence?


ToolboxIn a surprise tech-world twist, Google recently decided to sever ties with YouTube for its Amazon Echo Show product, an additional feature of the Echo which allows users to watch video, although why this sudden breaking of ties is still something of an open question.

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Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt

If you haven’t heard, something slightly strange happened in the tech world a few days ago. Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, Google decided to break YouTube for the Amazon Echo Show product. The Show is the Echo product that comes with a small display screen where you can… you know… watch videos. YouTube used to work on the product, and was even showcased by Amazon when it demonstrated the product at tech shows, but now all you get is Alexa’s monotone voice letting you know “Currently, Google is not supporting YouTube on Echo Show.”

Exactly why this is happening is something of an open question, since nobody at either company is offering up any details. Amazon’s response to the press puts the onus for this flatly on Google, but doesn’t detail why it happened.

Google made a change today at around 3 pm. YouTube used to be available to our shared customers on Echo Show. As of this afternoon, Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision, which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers.

The two primary theories center on Google wanting more control of how the Echo handles its videos or that Google is basically pitching a fit over it and Amazon’s long-running competition. For the theory about control, there is speculation that Google wants the Echo to handle YouTube videos in ways it currently doesn’t, including playing subsequent videos and offering subscription services.

Reading between the lines, I’d guess Google very much wants features that it thinks are essential for YouTube’s future growth included, stuff like subscriptions, next video recommendations, autoplay, and so on. But who knows! Only the negotiators at the table.

Google has a history of being particular about how YouTube gets displayed on apps made by other companies, citing the terms of service on its API. Way back in 2013, it got in a tiff with Microsoft over the YouTube app on Windows Phone, blocking the app and leading Microsoft to just revert to a web player for YouTube.

Download (13) call this what it actually is: Google has occasionally been hamfisted and stupid on how it handles YouTube on third party devices chiefly in order to exert a greater level of control it rarely actually achieves. In some ways this has all the hallmarks of a Sony-style way of doing business, which is an odd look for Google. The first thing I thought of when reading this story was Playstation 4’s Remote Play feature, available in the smartphone and tablet markets only on Sony phones and tablets, which have sold about as well as a pig roast at a vegan convention. Sony too made all the same noises about wanting to control the experience to make sure customers enjoyed Remote Play, but mostly ended up simply not having those customers at all. For Google, this is not a flattering comparison.

But if this is just more shots fired in a corporate tiff, it likely has to do with Amazon’s refusal to offer Google’s products on its site.

If nothing else, it’s clear that Google and Amazon are not doing a very good job working out that deal. (And hey look, the Google Chromecast still isn’t officially available to buy on Amazon.)

If that is what this is, then it’s even more stupid. Cutting out potential eyeballs for YouTube in order to slap around a competitor is about as misguided as it gets. After all, people have already bought these Echo Shows, and it’s going to be tough to frame this in terms of PR as anything beyond a giant corporation throwing a tantrum to the detriment of the public.

And so we’ll wait to see if this whole nonsense gets settled somehow. Given how long Amazon and Google have locked horns on other issues, some still ongoing, I won’t be holding my breath.