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Roku Says Comcast is Threatening to Block Users From Streaming NBC Apps

(Image credit: Roku)

Updated 9/18/2020: Comcast and Roku have come to terms on a new distribution deal, putting new streaming service Peacock on the OTT platform for the first time while keeping NBCU apps from leaving the platform. Next TV has a full report here.

Original story starts here:

Top streaming device maker Roku and Comcast NBCUniversal are in a dispute that could mean Roku users won’t be able to stream NBCU’s TV Everywhere apps.

Roku claims that Comcast is demanding that it carry NBCU’s new Peacock streaming service on terms it calls “unreasonable.”

Roku sent an email to customers explaining the dispute and how they can still access NBCU programming.

Also read: Roku Devices Are ‘Much Cheaper to Build’ vs. Android TV, CFO Says

NBCU blamed Roku in a statement.

We are disappointed Roku is removing its users’ access to NBCUniversal programming - 11 network apps, 12 NBC Owned Station apps, 23 Telemundo Owned Station apps - and continues to block access the only free premium streaming service available in the market, Peacock," NBCU said. "Roku’s unreasonable demands ultimately hurt both their consumers and their consumer equipment partners to whom they’ve promised access to all apps in the marketplace. "

People familiar with the situation said the NBCU thought it had a deal last week, but that Roku sought additional conditions. NBCU objects to demands from Roku from NBCU content, ad inventory and integration into NBCU advertising technology.

If the dispute continues, a blackout is likely to start Saturday. That will mean Roku users will lose access to NBC Sports content including Sunday Night Football, U.S. Open golf and the Stanley Cup Final.

Disputes between streaming device makers and programmers is a new flashpoint, not dissimilar from the blackouts that happen between programmers and cable operators. For example, AT&T’s HBO Max is not available on Roku or Amazon.

In some ways, Comcast is a competitor to Roku, with its Flex service giving broadband customers access to streaming channels. 

And Comcast's demand that Roku remove NBCU apps make it a bit different from a cable carriage dispute because when and if an agreement is reached, both sides won't be able to flip a switch to give viewers access to NBCU programming. Instead, NBCU will have to get long-time consumers to reinstall the apps, which can be a tedious process.

A spokesperson for Roku said that Roku recently learned that Comcast plans to revoke consumers’ access to the NBC TV Everywhere channels as soon as Friday.

“These consumers, a number of whom are Comcast customers, have paid to access these channels via their cable TV subscriptions and now cannot view this content on Roku, their platform of choice,” the Roku spokesman said. “ Comcast is removing the channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms. While the NBC TV Everywhere apps represent an insignificant amount of streaming hours and revenue on our platform, we believe they are important to those consumers who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home.”

Roku said its goal is to bring consumers a wide selection of content, and help content producer reach large audiences.

“We offered to extend our existing arrangement for Comcast’s TV Everywhere channels as-is so that they remain accessible while we continue to work towards a Peacock agreement. Comcast has declined our extension offer and so far has also refused fair and equitable business terms for the distribution of Peacock - despite the fact that they stand to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue from its distribution on the Roku platform,” the Roku spokesman said. 

“We are an independent company that built the No. 1 streaming platform in the U.S. by putting consumers first and reinvesting the revenue from successful distribution partnerships to fund the innovations that enable the fantastic user experience and value we bring to millions of users,” the Roku spokesman said. “Consumers stand to benefit from Comcast and Roku reaching a fair agreement that preserves access to TV Everywhere apps, expands choice in free content and respects the user’s desire to access content on the platform of their choosing. We are committed to trying to achieve that goal.”

Here is the email Roku is sending customers:

Dear Roku Customer,

Comcast informed Roku that they plan to take away consumers’ access to NBCUniversal’s TV Everywhere channels on the Roku platform. TV Everywhere channels allow Roku users to stream channels that are part of the traditional Pay TV package they subscribe to. Comcast may require Roku to delete these channels as early as this weekend. 

This is deeply disappointing and the wrong way to treat subscribers, many of whom are Comcast customers, who pay to access these channels via their cable TV subscriptions and now will no longer be able to view these TV Everywhere channels on Roku, their platform of choice. While these NBC TV Everywhere apps represent a very small number of streaming hours on our platform, we believe they are convenient to people who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home.

Comcast is removing these channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms. 

Roku’s goal is to bring you a wide selection of content and to help content producers build large audiences. We asked Comcast to extend our existing arrangement for their TV Everywhere channels as-is so that they remain accessible while we continue to work towards a Peacock agreement. Comcast declined to extend and also refused fair and normal business terms for the distribution of Peacock. 

Fortunately, Roku customers can still access NBCUniversal’s channels many ways on Roku devices. Existing Xfinity, Charter, or AT&T TV customers can stream NBCUniversal’s channels on the Xfinity StreamSpectrum TV and AT&T TV channels available in the Roku Channel Store. You can also watch NBCUniversal’s networks through other Live TV providers such as AT&T TV NowFuboTVHulu + Live TVSling TV, and YouTube TV, many of which offer free trials. Comcast’s decision does not affect access to the Xfinity Stream app.

We know that you stand to benefit from Comcast and Roku reaching an agreement that preserves access to TV Everywhere channels, expands choice in free content and respects your desire to watch content on the platform of your choosing. We are committed to trying to achieve that goal.

Regards,

Roku