Search glitches at Roku, Amazon frustrated 'Yellowstone' fans

Cord-cutters who wanted to watch the season debut of Yellowstone earlier this month had no shortage of streaming cable alternatives to choose from. But users of some popular smart TV devices likely faced difficulty signing up for those services due to a glitch with the search functions on two popular streaming platforms.

The issue likely added to the confusion streamers faced when trying to access the new season of "Yellowstone," which airs Sunday evenings on Paramount Network, a cable channel that shares a similar name to Paramount+ but is otherwise separate from the service.

On November 13, Paramount Network scheduled a double episode of "Yellowstone" to kick off the fifth season. The live channel is carried across a number of streaming cable TV alternatives, or vMVPDs, including Philo, Vidgo, Sling TV (with an add-on package), YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Fubo TV and DirecTV Stream.

But users of Roku's streaming platform wouldn't have found any of those options listed if they looked for the fifth season of "Yellowstone" when they used the platform's built-in search function or a voice-powered remote control. Instead, Roku showed just a single app — Spectrum — as carrying the fifth season. Unlike other streaming apps, Spectrum is only available in parts of the country where Charter's broadband internet and pay TV products are offered.

No one at Roku's Twitter-based support account provided an explanation when asked why the streaming platform was only showing Spectrum as an option to access the fifth season of "Yellowstone". A spokesperson for the streaming platform confirmed the company was looking into the matter, but did not have an explanation as to why the glitch occurred by the time this article was published. Roku and Fierce Video confirmed the issue was largely resolved within a few days, with other options available to access the show.

The same problem was experienced on Amazon's Fire TV platform, with users only finding Comcast's Peacock as an option to watch the show. Peacock holds the digital distribution rights to prior episodes of "Yellowstone" shortly after each season concludes on Paramount Network. (Paramount+, the flagship streaming service of Paramount Global, does not offer any episodes of "Yellowstone" in the U.S.).

Amazon's own Prime Video store sells on-demand access to all episodes of "Yellowstone," with episodes from a current season available about 24 hours after they first run on Paramount Network. But Fire TV users weren't shown that option for several days, either.

An Amazon spokesperson said Monday they would check to see if the company had a comment about the issue.**

The search glitches complicated efforts at some vMVPDs who were counting on Roku and Amazon's search functions to help them grow their subscriber base ahead of the season premiere.

If the biggest streaming provider isn’t showing the biggest show of the year besides one cable provider, that's impacting everyone, an employee of a vMVPD service told Fierce Video in an online message, noting that competing vMVPD services were likely impacted by the issue as well.

Roku and Amazon help to discover content

Roku and Amazon are two of the four major streaming platforms in the U.S. and command about 80% of the domestic streaming market, according to data reported by Parks Associates that was shared with Fierce Video in October. The two are tied for first place in terms of streaming platforms by installations, with 40% share each, the data showed. The companies compete with each other by offering streaming pucks and sticks that are sold at aggressive, low prices.

Roku has posited itself more than others as a platform that is content and service friendly. The company recently announced features that aim to take the guesswork out of searching for and discovering content that are tailored to the watch history and tastes of its users. Likewise, executives have affirmed Roku as a developer-friendly platform that aims to help streaming video services grow bigger while reducing churn.

"The goal is to grow the pie for them," Nicole Fencel, a Roku executive in charge of the company's subscription video marketplace and platform, said at a September conference. "They have access to the Roku platform, the Roku Channel, as a merchandising opportunity. We want to make it so they can have as many subscribers as possible, and we are one way that you can help them grow that."

Roku and Amazon are each incentivized to help streamers get connected with partner services: Roku takes a percentage of each subscription that is purchased through its Roku Channel marketplace or when a customer signs up through a third-party app that accepts Roku Pay. Similarly, Amazon takes a cut of each subscription sold through its Prime Video Channels marketplace, or when a third-party app allows customers to pay for a subscription with Amazon Pay.

It isn't clear if the search issue that prevent Roku and Amazon users from finding services with the fifth season of "Yellowstone" also impacts other shows, movies or services. But it comes at a time when Roku and Amazon have announced layoffs that could impact areas of their business that are responsible for the development and maintenance of its most-financially lucrative features.

Last week, Roku announced it would move forward with a series of layoffs that will reduce its headcount by 200 in the United States, or about 7% of its workforce. The company cited struggles in the advertising market as a factor in the layoffs, which are expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2023. The Roku Channel, where Roku sells subscriptions and offers free, ad-supported content, generated the bulk of its net revenue last quarter, Fierce Video reported.

In a similar move, Amazon began telling some workers last week that the company was moving forward with layoffs that could see as many as 10,000 jobs lost. The majority of the layoffs are expected to impact Amazon's devices sector, including workers who develop and maintain its smart assistant, Alexa. The search function on Amazon's Fire TV devices are powered by Alexa.

**After publication of this story, Amazon sent a comment, saying, "We have entire teams dedicated to monitoring for and managing these types of occurrences, and are constantly improving the Fire TV experience for our customers.”