Users shouldn’t have to know about tech company feuds. In an ideal world, where the user experience is the top priority, your ability to watch videos would not depend on how well two multinational corporations are getting along this month.
If you haven’t noticed, we don’t live in an ideal world.
This week, Google announced YouTube will stop working on Amazon’s Fire TV devices come January. Google also purposely broke YouTube on the Echo Show, for the second time this year.
If you read a lot of tech news, you saw this coming. Most people don’t, so here’s a quick explainer of why these two technology giants can’t get along, and what it means for users.
Everything On the Internet Is a Competition
Google and Amazon obviously compete on a number of products. But even before voice assistants and streaming sticks came around, Google saw Amazon as competition in the search space. In 2014, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted by Mashable as saying:
If you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon. They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.
As such, the two have always been a little bit at odds. Amazon wants to be your one stop for all shopping on the internet, and Google wants to be…well, your one stop for everything on the internet.
Amazon Cast Aside Google’s Streaming Device
Amazon knows it’s people’s first stop when they go shopping. You head to Amazon.com, you type what you want, and you expect to find it quickly.
But if you go to Amazon and search for Google’s Chromecast streaming stick, the top results look like this:
That’s right: the first two results are Amazon’s Fire TV…and there is no Chromecast in sight. Keep scrolling, and you’ll find plenty of knockoff devices that resemble a Chromecast, but you won’t find any actual Chromecast devices from Google. (As a blogger I can’t help but laugh when Google, of all companies, is suffering because of unfair search results, but that’s beside the point.)
So why isn’t Chromecast listed? Because in 2015, Amazon outright banned the sale of Google Chromecast devices on their site, going so far as to delete listings by third party vendors. Here was Amazon’s explanation at the time:
Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime. It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.
You can’t watch Amazon Prime Video on Google’s Chromecast, but Amazon’s statement here is incredibly misleading: it’s Amazon’s choice whether or not to support Prime Video on the Chromecast, not Google’s. So Amazon chose not to put Amazon Prime Video on the Chromecast, and then used that as an excuse to ban it from its store.
Amazon could add Chromecast support to their Prime Video service whenever they want—just like they added support for Apple TV this week. To me, it seems obvious that what Amazon really wants is to not sell products that compete with their own. Amazon’s just not willing to say that outright.
In Retaliation, Google Is Killing YouTube On Amazon Devices
— Eqbal Ashraf (@eqbalashraf) December 6, 2017
Similarly, there’s no technical reason why the Echo Show and the Fire TV can’t show YouTube videos. In the past, Google claimed the Echo Show was violating their terms of service, but it’s not a stretch to imagine Amazon and Google sorting that out quietly under different circumstances.
Many commentators assumed Google was using YouTube as leverage to get concessions from Amazon on the Chromecast front. Google made this explicit for the first time in a frank statement this week:
We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services. But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of [Google-owned] Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV.
Google is saying, in no uncertain terms, that they want Amazon to sell Google hardware products on Amazon.com, that they want Prime Video to work on Chromecast, and that they’re willing to hold Fire TV and Echo Show users hostage to make these things happen. YouTube is by far the most popular video platform on the planet, and actually gets a lot of usage on TVs—so this change makes Amazon devices a lot less appealing.
It’s easy to see this as Google abusing their power, because it’s Google abusing their power. But Google, for their part, claim they have no choice, because Amazon is abusing their power.
Users Lose as Amazon and Google Fight
There’s nothing illegal about any of this. Google can block Amazon’s products from accessing YouTube if they want to, and Amazon can refuse to sell specific products if they want to. But it sure is bad for users.
You can argue who is right here, and I’m sure people will in the comments. I’m not interested in that. I think both companies should be finding ways to make lives easier for their customers, and right now neither seems particularly interested in doing so.
Of course, it isn’t just about the Chromecast anymore, either. Once Amazon released the Echo and Alexa, the two became direct competitors in the broader search space. Google built the Google Home platform in response to this threat….any guesses what happens if you search for Google Home Mini on Amazon?
This makes Amazon a worse shopping experience for users who know what they want, just like Google’s YouTube blockade makes their video service harder to access for would-be YouTube viewers. Companies focused on their users wouldn’t be pulling these kind of stunts, but right now, both Amazon and Google are focused on building their empires, even if that means making life worse for users. And that’s a shame.