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AT&T TV becomes first major service pulled from Roku platform

Roku’s operating system on a smart TV. (Photo: Handout)

One company has proved that when it comes to streaming TV hardware, Roku is just as vulnerable as the rest.

On January 1, Dallas-based telecom giant AT&T pulled its two streaming TV apps — AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) — from Roku’s application store after a contract between AT&T and the platform expired, Roku said.

Customers who downloaded the AT&T TV or AT&T TV Now apps before the start of the new year still have access to them, but those who sign up for AT&T TV after January 1 will have to watch the service on a platform other than Roku.

Nearly everyone with skin in the streaming game makes an application for Roku, the California-based streaming TV hardware company that has been around for more than a decade. Over the years, it’s been a reliable way to watch just about everything — it was one of the first platforms to support Netflix and Hulu Plus (now just called Hulu) alongside Crackle, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.

This was a major advantage compared to Amazon Fire, which lost YouTube for a while over a spat with Google, and Apple TV which didn’t initially support Amazon Prime Video (and, up until recently, Spotify). And Roku gained a leg up over the competition when Apple announced it would support the platform for its new Apple TV Plus service, making Roku the first non-Apple service to stream iTunes movies.

In recent years, Roku has moved away from relying primarily on hardware sales and focusing more on  viewer data and advertising revenue, making deals like one it had with AT&T to share the benefits of that data and ad revenue more lucrative. Losing AT&T’s apps is the first major blow for a company that has generally taken a service-agnostic approach toward partnering with third party companies, including some it competes with in the hardware space.

The specifics of AT&T’s deal with Roku aren’t clear, but the telecom giant said it’s “actively working on a new agreement with Roku and hope to resolve this soon.”

AT&T may ultimately hurt more than Roku from the dispute: Roku is one of the top streaming hardware devices in the United States, with around one in four homes picking it over similar devices offered from Apple and Amazon. On the other hand, AT&T has been losing ground to startup services like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo since the company nearly doubled its subscription fee since it launched a few years ago.

AT&T TV Now is still available on iOS, Android, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV, while AT&T TV is available through the company’s own line of Android TV boxes.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).