Amazon likes to play rough. The company has a notorious history of being exceedingly competitive, and sometimes some might describe them as childish. The latest casualty of Amazon's pettiness, Google, is fighting back.
One of the earliest examples of Amazon's rough competitive tactics dates back to October 2015, when Amazon removed both the Apple TV and Google's Chromecast from the Amazon store. Amazon explained that it would not sell devices that do not stream Amazon's prime video content, which neither device did. The problem is that on both of these devices, Amazon is the only one who can enable streaming of their content.
Apple finally reached agreeable terms with Amazon earlier this year, announcing that Prime Video would be arriving at the Apple TV 'this fall.' However, after a long delay, many pondered that negotiations had fallen through once again. That all changed when earlier last week, Prime Video appeared not only on Apple's latest TV devices but also on older models dating back to 2012. While this may seem like a decision between two companies, it is possible Amazon even did it to snub Google.
While Apple and Amazon have reconciled, Google and Amazon have been wrestling with their consumers in the middle. Here's a look at what's suddenly resurrected this feud, how it may continue, and why at the end of the day, the only people that miss out are consumers.
The Echo Show
Back in June, Amazon released the Echo Show, a new device in their Alexa family that featured the virtual assistant alongside a large, touchscreen display. At launch, the device allowed users to say things such as 'show me the new Taylor Swift music video' and be shown the video on YouTube.
This remained the case until late September, when the Amazon Echo began responding to YouTube requests with "Currently, Google is not supporting Youtube on Echo Show." The company also released a statement saying that Google had removed access without warning or explanation, and that "There is no technical reason for that decision, which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers."
However, Amazon's statement appeared to be dishonest. Later that day, Google released its public statement. The company claimed it had been in negotiations for weeks with Amazon to get a YouTube experience it felt reasonable on the device, and that the current implementation was a direct violation of the Terms of Service.
This is because Amazon's implementation did not support ads, subscriptions, suggestions, and other key YouTube features. Despite this lack of compliance, Google allowed Amazon to keep their version up for many months during negotiations, until giving up and removing it.
After removing access to YouTube on the Echo Show, Amazon continued its childish tactics. The company removed all Nest products from its store, seemingly without explanation.
Following that, Amazon restored the YouTube functionality by merely redirecting users to a standard browser that played the video, against Google's wishes. This was apparently not an ideal experience for watching videos on the Echo, but it was enough to try and one-up Google.
Google Strikes Back
Google struck back against Amazon's move earlier this week, with an unusually harsh punishment. Not only had the company removed the workaround for the Echo Show YouTube experience, but they also announced that all Amazon Fire TV products would lose YouTube support on January 1.
Losing YouTube support is a huge blow for one of the most prominent streaming devices on the market. By publicly announcing the removal, Google not only struck back on the Echo Show dispute but also attempted to hurt sales of Amazon's products.
Google followed up the announcement with a public statement:
“We’ve been trying to reach an 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 Nest's latest products. 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.”
And then, most recently, Amazon enacted the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' strategy by putting Prime Video on the Apple TV, and restoring sales of the product on Amazon. While this is a clear win for Apple, the timing of the announcement (one day after Google's decision to remove YouTube from Amazon's devices), indicates that it is the first response back from Amazon.
Additionally, asking an Echo device to buy a Chromecast now recommends buying a Fire TV instead.
These moves are sure not to be the last in what might be an ongoing war between Amazon and Google. Both companies seem to have decided on similar paths for their future product lineups, and as a result, are failing to cooperate with the other.
While this may appear to be a war on streaming boxes, it is much more, Google and Amazon are now head-to-head competitors on almost all their product lines, and the ripple effects of this feud could end up affecting far more than YouTube videos.
On a basic level, any search made on an Amazon Echo will be lost revenue for Google, as if it weren't for the device, the consumer would likely use Google to find the answer to their question. While this may seem to be a small problem, Echo continues to grow at an alarming rate and has unquestionably lost Google tens-of-millions of dollars in search revenue at this point.
Second, Google's line of Home devices is the most formidable competitor to Amazon's Echo lineup. When Google introduced the Google Home in 2016, the company even credited Amazon with the idea and recent trend of smart speakers. As time progresses, more and more people will be choosing between an Amazon or Google intelligent speaker.
Third, Google is making an active attempt to help brick and mortar stores in fighting Amazon with the creation of Google Express. For those unfamiliar, Express allows users to use a store set up by Amazon and select products from hundreds of local stores, and have them delivered to your house. The program has grown exponentially this year, and will soon become a problem for Amazon.
There are other, smaller areas where Google and Amazon compete as well, such as YouTube and Twitch, but these three areas are the most important at this point. Expect more and more competition between the two companies over the coming months, and expect it to hurt you, the consumer.
Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:
"But regardless of the public stance each company takes over the next few days, it’s their mutual customers who are unfairly getting jerked around... YouTube is video on the internet. Period. It’s also home to beloved creators, and Google’s decision will soon rob them of viewers...
But it’s Amazon’s own fault that Prime Video doesn’t work with Chromecast. Amazon has the power to make it happen. What’s Google supposed to do in this scenario?"
Welch accurately describe the reality that this ends up hurting consumers the most. Google removing YouTube from Amazon devices is consumer-hostile, but the truth of the matter is Amazon is really at fault for the feud beginning in the first place.
If Amazon and Google genuinely care about their consumers, they would solve this (likely easily solvable) dispute, and allow all their users to receive an ideal experience. But the two companies will likely continue to argue, and Amazon's bitter business tactics will result in a scenario where everyone loses out.