Roku, HBO Max talks happening “daily,” AT&T executive says

The CEO of AT&T's WarnerMedia says he's optimistic a deal will be reached with Roku.
(Image: WarnerMedia/AT&T/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Discussions between AT&T’s WarnerMedia subsidiary and streaming platform Roku are taking place “daily,” and both sides are likely to figure things out in a way that results in a deal to bring Roku customers native access to HBO Max soon, according to an AT&T executive.

In an interview with technology publication Recode, WarnerMedia chief executive Jason Kilar refused to offer specifics on discussions between his company and Roku over the blockbuster streaming app, but said he’s about as optimistic that a deal will eventually be reached.

Since it launched in May, HBO Max has been unavailable as a native app to Roku users, who are instead forced to use the stripped-down HBO app. Some users can cast HBO Max content using Roku devices that are compatible with Apple’s Airplay 2 protocol, but only if they have a separate Apple devices as well.

The same issue prevented HBO Max subscribers from accessing the app on Amazon Fire TV devices for several months until a deal was reached in November.

The issue in both cases stemmed from an earlier deal with AT&T to offer native subscriptions to HBO through Roku and Amazon streaming devices. Amazon settled the issue by eventually dropping the native HBO subscriptions from its Amazon Prime Video Channels service.

Roku has held out a bit longer, though an inside source told The Desk in mid-November that the issue involving native subscriptions had been largely resolved. Now both sides are negotiating over the amount of commercial ad inventory Roku will be allowed to access when AT&T rolls out a cheaper, ad-supported version of HBO Max next year, the source said.

On Friday, Kilar declined to offer specific information about his company’s negotiations with Roku, but said he was optimistic a deal would be reached as it had been with Amazon.

“We are talking to them [Roku] daily, and they are talking to us daily — but other than that tidbit, I think it’s better for those conversations to remain private until there’s something worth to share,” Kilar said. “I will say — something that I said before about Amazon — it’s very clearly in the interest of Roku, and WarnerMedia, to find common ground here. It benefits both companies — and, even more importantly, fans want it. Usually when you have those dynamics at play, things get figured out.”

Analysts say it’s in Roku’s interest to ink a deal soon after AT&T said it would offer its Christmas Day-release movie “Wonder Woman 1984” and all 2021 Warner Bros. feature-length films on HBO Max the same day those movies appear in cinemas. The films will be offered for one month on HBO Max and won’t cost streamers anything extra to view.

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