Vizio, Inc. finds itself as the defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the company misled consumers about the ability of certain Smart TV models to stream content directly from the YouTube App. Per the case, this “key feature” of the product is alleged to have permanently stopped working on affected Vizio televisions on June 26, 2017.
What are we talking about here?
The main point of contention in the 32-page, 33-count complaint is Vizio’s marketing, advertising and packaging for affected Smart TVs—i.e., televisions manufactured and sold by Vizio between 2012 and the present that operate on an older, Flash-based Application Programming Interface (API). This technology, through which YouTube and other services send content directly to consumers’ televisions, differs from newer HTML5-based API systems. It’s Flash-based Smart TVs, the lawsuit points out, that can no longer access the YouTube app.
“[Vizio] promoted, through advertising and marketing that educated and informed the consuming public, its Affected Smart TVs as a means to access YouTube,” the lawsuit reads. “At no time prior to 2013 did [the defendant] disclaim that continued use of the YouTube app, for the life of its Affected Smart TVs, could or would end.”
This sounds technical.
While the background laid out in the complaint may seem a little foreign to those who don’t consider themselves tech-savvy, the lawsuit’s allegations read much like those posed by other cases accusing product manufacturers of deceiving consumers.
Filed in California, the lawsuit claims Vizio took advantage of the seismic shift in consumers’ television watching habits by promoting its Smart TVs as different from traditional TVs due to their ability to stream video content directly from the apps of entertainment providers like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. The affected Smart TVs, the complaint says, were touted by Vizio as being equipped with the same bells and whistles and “convenience of use” as smartphones. The defendant used this tactic, the complaint says, in conjunction with plastering the logos of streaming apps like YouTube on its packaging, in-store displays and website to lure consumers into buying its products.
“Vizio’s Smart TV strategy was critical to its success, and the marketing and inclusion of YouTube as one of those applications was a necessary component to drive its sales, and increase its market share,” the lawsuit asserts.
On June 26, 2017, the YouTube app permanently stopped working on affected Smart TVs, a concession Vizio reportedly announced on its website by merely identifying the TVs that were left behind in the switch from Flash-based to HTML5-based APIs. The crux of the case, the plaintiff argues, is that consumers believed upon buying their Smart TVs that they would have guaranteed access to YouTube through its app for the life of the products, with Vizio at no point giving any indication that this could change.
Did Vizio offer to fix the problem?
The lawsuit claims Vizio has not offered any remedy to proposed class members who cannot access YouTube’s app on their Smart TVs other than advising consumers to buy a separate external streaming device, such as a Google Chromecast.
What did YouTube have to say about this?
The lawsuit notes that YouTube echoed Vizio’s suggestion for consumers to buy external streaming devices if they wished to continue streaming the site’s content directly to their televisions, only with more explanation as to why the app stopped working altogether:
“In 2012, YouTube and our device partners started distributing an HTML5 version of the YouTube app for TVs. This app has many new features and other improvements that are not available on the older Flash app. We now think it is the right time to end-of-life this app because we continue to roll out new features to the current YouTube on TV app (topic tabs, improved search, watch next, recommendations, better transport controls, etc.) the legacy devices using the Flash app cannot get them.”
Does the lawsuit mention the specific model televisions that are affected?
The complaint lists the following model numbers for Vizio Smart TVs that allegedly no longer have access to the YouTube app:
Who’s covered by this lawsuit?
The proposed class includes anyone in the United States who purchased a Smart TV with one of the above-mentioned model numbers. The lawsuit also proposes to cover a class of consumers in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia who bought and still own an affected Vizio-manufactured Smart TV.