Roku forcing app developers to use Roku Pay for subscriptions

(Image: Roku, Inc. / Graphic: The Desk)

Streaming hardware manufacturer Roku is requiring subscription services to offer a native way for customers to upgrade or downgrade their service on Roku devices, a move that effectively forces developers to use Roku Pay and one that could result in services dropping their support for the platform altogether.

In a note to developers on Friday, Roku said developers who distribute subscription video on demand  or TV on-demand apps through the company’s platform must allow customers to upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions on a Roku device and can’t send customers to an external website to complete subscription transactions.

The move comes after a similar edict was put in place forbidding subscription or TV on-demand services from sending customers to external websites to authenticate their user credentials, something that was typically done by asking viewers to input a code shown on their TV screens into a webpage.

Subscription and TV on-demand apps that don’t allow customers to log-in, upgrade and downgrade their service on Roku devices won’t be certified by Roku for distribution in the company’s app store, effectively making them unavailable for customers who use Roku devices.

“All public channels will be certified against these updated criteria effective immediately — this applies both to new channels and updates to existing channels,” Roku said in an email obtained by The Desk. “Channels currently published in the Roku Channel Store will not be re-certified against these criteria until the next time a channel update is submitted through the developer dashboard.” (The company refers to streaming apps as channels.)

The move means app developers who offer subscription content will soon be required to support Roku Pay, the company’s built-in mechanism for charging customers who purchase or subscribe to content through their devices. As of Friday, Roku Pay was the only way for customers to purchase content or subscriptions natively through their devices. Roku takes a 20 percent cut of all sales completed through Roku Pay.

The requirement effectively forces streaming apps to use Roku Pay if they offer subscription content, a move that could result in some companies dropping their support for the platform altogether. Roku’s insistence on selling subscriptions and content natively through its platform is one of the biggest reasons why AT&T WarnerMedia has yet to make its blockbuster streaming service HBO Max available for Roku customers (AT&T also hasn’t offered HBO Max to Amazon Fire TV users for the same reason).

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the change applied to TV Everywhere apps. The change applies to TV on-demand services, not TV Everywhere apps.