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Google pulls YouTube app from Amazon Fire TV devices

By | Published on Thursday 7 December 2017

Amazon Fire TV

Just as Amazon made friends with Apple again yesterday, an ongoing dispute with Google stepped up a gear. The latter tech giant has announced that, from January, it will remove its YouTube app from Amazon’s Fire TV devices. Google blamed a “lack of reciprocity” on Amazon’s part for the decision.

This all seemingly relates to a dispute over what Google products Amazon stocks on its flagship selling-stuff website. Or, rather, what it doesn’t stock.

In a statement announcing that it was pulling YouTube’s Fire TV app, Google complained that Amazon is refusing to stock its gadgets – such as its Chromecast TV streaming thing – and also failing to provide support for using Amazon’s video-on-demand Prime Video app on Chromecast devices.

“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services”, said a Google spokesperson.

“But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home”, they went on, “doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products”. Nest being a sister company to Google that makes various net-connected gizmos.

Google’s champion moan continued: “Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon”.

Google’s decision to withdraw support for Amazon’s newish Echo Show device – the version of its voice-activated Echo range that has a screen – was actually announced back in September.

At the time, both sides were coy about what had happened. Amazon told The Verge that the decision was made “without explanation … which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers”. Google, meanwhile, said that “Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service”.

In part at least, this dispute dates back to 2015, when Amazon ceased to stock both Chromecast and Apple TV devices on its main website – leaving them only available for sale on the Amazon platform via third party sellers.

Obviously you don’t have to be too much of a conspiracy theorist to note that these Google and Apple devices compete head on with Amazon’s Fire TV devices. Although that doesn’t explain why Amazon has also pulled those Nest products. Or, for that matter, Apple’s MacBooks, iPhones and iPads.

Which brings us to the Amazon/Apple dispute. At the Recode conference last year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: “When we sell those devices, we want our player – our Prime Video player – to be on the device, and we want it to be on the device with acceptable business terms. You can always get the player on the device. The question is, can you get it on there with acceptable business terms?”

Amazon Prime Video does have an iOS app – it’s worth noting – so that doesn’t entirely explain why Amazon doesn’t stock those Apple devices. However, when it comes to “better business terms”, it was generally assumed that Bezos was referring to the so-called ‘Apple tax’.

As much previously reported, Apple insists on taking 30% of sales made through its app store, both on apps that you pay to download, and also those where a subscription is charged within the app itself.

That latter stipulation has been frequently criticised by streaming services, including music platforms like Spotify, because Apple’s cut from the subscription would take away those companies’ entire (best case scenario) profit margin. Therefore services like Spotify have to add a 30% premium on subscriptions sold through the iOS app, which makes it look like their services are more expensive than Apple’s competing services.

Apple rules also prevent rivals from telling customers that they can buy subscriptions outside of the Apple ecosystem at a cheaper rate.

That rule also results in a slightly confusing experience on Amazon’s iOS video app. Where movies are not available for streaming via a Prime subscription, the app often says that the content can instead be purchased or rented. But it offers no clear information on how users might do so, it not wanting to do any selling or renting out via the Apple platform for financial reasons.

Meanwhile, Amazon had never even released a Prime Video app for Apple TV devices, seemingly due to the same dispute over what cut of payments Apple demands. However, at his company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple boss Tim Cook announced that a Prime Video app for Apple TV would finally be made available this year.

Yesterday the two companies announced that – finally – that very app had now gone live, with Vice President of Prime Video Mark Eamer saying in a statement: “There is nothing that excites us more than delighting our customers, and we are THRILLED for them to stream Prime Video on Apple TV”.

Apple’s Eddy Cue added: “Amazon Prime Video is one of the most eagerly anticipated apps to come to Apple TV, so we’re excited to bring all of that great content to customers”.

Quite what headway has actually been made in Amazon and Apple’s long-running dispute over “business terms” isn’t clear. Notably, the Prime Video Apple TV app, like its iOS versions, does not offer the ability to rent or buy videos from Amazon, with only a note that you’ll be able to watch them in the app if you buy them somewhere else.

It’s also not clear if this latest development means that Amazon will begin stocking Apple TV devices again. Currently they are not available direct from Amazon, although earlier this year the company did briefly list the latest version of the device for sale on its US site (but it has since been removed).

Google also takes 30% of sales made through its app platform, although with less strict controls than Apple, particularly in terms of directing people to other places they can sign up. Though those Google app store “business terms” may also be a contributing factor in the aforementioned Amazon/Google spat.

Either way, with no headway being made in that domain just yet, Fire TV users who open the YouTube app on their devices are now met with a message informing them that “starting on 1 Jan 2018, YouTube will not be available on this device”. It then notes that there are “many other ways” to watch YouTube videos, offering a link to a list of other devices that could be used instead.

In a statement to Variety, an Amazon rep said: “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website”.

While Apple, Google and Amazon all bicker with each other about how they deliver and distribute each other’s products and services, other streaming platforms are also increasingly tetchy about the way the big three tech/web giants organise their respective platforms so to favour their own music and video services.

Which may or may not be why many of the streaming music companies not controlled by Apple, Google and Amazon have now formed their own lobbying group in Brussels.