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Here’s what you can do if Roku loses YouTube in December

Come December 9, it’s very possible that Roku — the No. 1 streaming platform in the United States, and No. 2 in the rest of the world — could lose access to YouTube due to an ongoing dispute with Google over … something. (Roku says it’s not about money, but it’s totally about money.) Losing YouTube also would mean losing access to YouTube TV, because that’s currently the only way to get to the No. 2 live TV streaming service on Roku due to the fallout from this whole fracas.

It’s exhausting as someone who uses YouTube TV. It’s exhausting as someone who uses Roku. And it raises the very real question about what your options are if, come the second week of December, YouTube and YouTube TV no longer are available on Roku.

The good news, if there’s any to be had when two companies are fighting publicly and dragging their customers into the mud with them, is that you’ve got options. No promises that you’re going to like them, though.

YouTube on Roku.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Option 1: Get rid of Roku

If you just have to keep YouTube TV, then your best bet is going to be to move off of Roku and onto some other platform.

That’s the easy part of this option. Slightly more difficult is deciding what hardware to go with instead of Roku. That mostly comes down to a function of how much money you’re willing to spend.

The cheapskate option: Use what you’ve got

There’s a pretty good chance that if you’ve bought a television in the past few years, it comes with some sort of smart operating system built in. (If that OS happens to be Roku, well, you’re out of luck and will need to skip down a few paragraphs.) But it could be Vizio’s SmartCast, or Samsung’s smart OS, or even Google TV or Amazon Fire TV. If you’ve got some operating system other than Roku, you almost certainly should be able to watch YouTube and/or YouTube TV using it instead of an external Roku device.

There’s also a decent chance that your relatively modern TV has Google’s Chromecast protocol, or Apple’s AirPlay baked in. In that case, you can stream YouTube and YouTube TV from your phone, tablet, or computer. And that goes for Roku TVs, too. If they support Chromecast or AirPlay, you’re good to go, YouTube app be damned.

Repeat: There’s a very real chance that your TV will let you use your phone or tablet or computer to stream YouTube and YouTube TV to it. Try this first.

The relatively inexpensive options

If you’re using a Roku streaming stick of some sort and want to replace it to keep access to YouTube and YouTube TV, you’ve got a lot of comparable options that will very much be in the same price range.

If you’re looking to go native with YouTube and YouTube TV, you can’t beat the new Chromecast with Google TV. It’s the latest device from Google itself and competes directly with Roku — which likely isn’t helping with the negotiations any — both in terms of price and features. At $50 retail, it’s right in that sweet spot. And in addition to YouTube and YouTube TV, it’s got all the other major streaming apps, including Apple TV+ for you Ted Lasso fans.

Another obvious option is Amazon Fire TV, whose sticks are right in the same price range as Roku’s. They match up in terms of specs, too, with features like support for 4K resolution, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. For our money, we’d go with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which is the latest release and the most future-proof at this point.

YouTube and YouTube TV on LG webOS
YouTube and YouTube TV are both available on LG TVs’ built-in operating system. Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

If you don’t mind dropping some cash

For some people, a $50 stick is fine. But others might not mind spending three times as much.” We’ve got them covered, too.

Apple TV 4K offers one of the best hardware experiences you can put in your living room. And it should be, since the latest model retails at $179 for 32 gigabytes of storage, or $199 for 64GB. The user interface is simple. It’s got all the apps, including YouTube and YouTube TV. And if you’re already all-in on the Apple ecosystem, you’ll get extra perks like HomeKit and Apple Fitness+, plus the aforementioned AirPlay.

And it’s also extremely rare to see public spats between Apple and the streaming services. That in and of itself may be worth paying the extra money.

Another not-inexpensive option, if you’re looking for the best Android-based hardware you can get, is Nvidia Shield. YouTube and YouTube TV have great support there, of course, and Chromecast is built in, too.

Option 2: Get rid of YouTube TV

If you’re in love with Roku and can’t see yourself living without it, then maybe it’s time to grab a new streaming service for your live channels. Fortunately, there are more options there than ever before.

Free TV is easy — and free

Those of us of a certain age remember a time in which every television had an antenna sticking out the back. Or maybe an antenna was hanging off the side of the house, connected via cable to the television inside. The thing is, antennas may have gone out of style, but the technology is still solid. And with the rollout of ATSC 3.0, aka NextGen TV, you’re actually able to get your local channels in 4K resolution, where available.

Over-the-air antennas are a dime a dozen. You can spend $20 and get something that fits in a window, inside. Or you can spend more and mount something outside, and then run a cable into your TV inside. Just know that either way, you might have to play around a little bit with placement — and that outdoors and higher is always better than indoors and lower.

There are a number of options for live streaming channels, too. There are apps like Pluto that serve up live news and sport, in addition to other “linear” channels, for free, all supported by advertising. There’s also The Roku Channel, which has a wealth of free content, including live news from a number of sources (just be sure to stick with the credible ones, as there definitely are some fringe actors in there).

Hulu on Roku

Get a new live streaming service

If you’re looking for a new paid streaming service for live TV, you’ve got options. Not a lot, but they’re there.

Hulu With Live TV is about as close as it comes to YouTube TV in terms of scale — it had 3.7 million subscribers at last count, which actually is more than the “more than 3 million subscribers” YouTube TV announced in October 2020. It’s also comparable in terms of what channels are available, but do know that it’s not a 1:1 recreation. It has some channels that YouTube TV didn’t, and vice versa. Hulu nickels-and-dimes you over things like DVR recording — YouTube TV’s is unlimited — and Hulu charges for extra “space.” But it’s still an excellent option and worth checking out.

Outside of Hulu, another strong contender is Sling TV, which has a pair of base plans with fewer channels (and lower prices) than you’re used to. You’ll then build things out further with “Extras,” and the price will increase from there, too. It’s got the same basic list of options, too, like cloud-based DVR and the ability to add to the number of screens you’re able to watch at one time.

FuboTV also starts at the same monthly price of YouTube TV, and has a comparable list of channels. And like YouTube TV, it’s one of the few ways you can stream sports in (upscaled) 4K resolution. FuboTV also has a strong contingent of paid add-ons, including a number of international sports options that aren’t available anywhere else.

Another service to check out — particularly if you’re not looking to spend a lot — is Philo. You’ll get more than five dozen channels for $25 a month, and it’s available on just about every major hardware platform.

Option 3: Go outside and take a walk

It’s really nice this time of year. Maybe turn off the TV for a little while, get some fresh air. Maybe read a book.

And hope all this Roku-Google-YouTube nonsense blows over.

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