Amazon’s deal for HBO Max puts pressure on Roku

HBO Max, where the “Max” stands for “Maximum confusion.” (Image: WarnerMedia/AT&T/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Nearly six months after it launched, AT&T has finally brought HBO Max to users of Amazon’s Fire TV platform.

The move puts AT&T’s $15 a month streaming service in front of more than 40 million streaming TV households who use Amazon’s Fire TV platform to watch TV shows and movies through streaming apps.

On Tuesday, Amazon Fire TV users who have eligible HBO subscriptions will see the legacy HBO app convert to HBO Max automatically.

Since HBO Max launched in May, Amazon had been under pressure from users to add the subscription service or face defections to other platforms that supported the app. The service was supported from day one on Apple TV and Android TV (later renamed Google TV), and social media forums were filled with users threatening to buy and use different hardware if Amazon didn’t reach a deal with AT&T over the streaming service.

The issue stemmed from Amazon’s earlier agreement with AT&T to provide native subscriptions to HBO through the company’s Amazon Prime Video Channels service. Subscriptions sold through Prime Video Channels was the same $15 a month as what AT&T charged for HBO service elsewhere, but Amazon gained a commission from each sale made through its platform.

Amazon expected AT&T to continue paying it a commission for native subscriptions sold through Prime Video while also providing access to HBO Max’s extended library of content, something AT&T wasn’t willing to do. The stalemate kept HBO Max off Amazon’s Fire TV platforms until this week when both sides announced a deal had been reached.

Terms for the deal were not made public, and it was not immediately clear if Amazon would continue selling HBO subscriptions through Prime Video from Tuesday onward.

A similar issue has prevented Roku users from watching HBO Max content through a native app on its streaming hardware device. In June, The Desk reported AT&T offered Roku the option to continue selling native HBO subscriptions through its Roku Channel service in a way that gave Roku users access to the HBO Max app, but only if Roku agreed to lower its commission for each subscription sold. Roku declined the offer, according to a source familiar with negotiations between the two companies.

Earlier this month, users of some newer Roku hardware and Roku-powered smart TVs gained access to Apple’s Airplay 2 standard, which allows them to cast streaming TV content from their phones and tablets to their TV sets using compatible hardware. The move opened the door for some subscribers to cast HBO Max content to Roku’s devices for the first time, but only if they had an Apple phone, tablet, computer or iPod Touch.

Monday’s move undoubtedly puts pressure on Roku to execute a similar deal with AT&T over HBO Max — especially as the holiday shopping season kicks off.  For Roku’s users, there’s a sliver of hope that a deal will be inked between the two companies before Christmas.