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Exclusive: Like HBO Max, Comcast’s Peacock may miss Roku, Amazon on launch day

(Logo: NBCUniversal/Comcast, Graphic: The Desk)

When NBC’s parent company Comcast announced its new streaming service Peacock last year, executives at the telecommunications giant said they expected the service would be made available from day one on popular streaming platforms.

Turns out, that may not be the case.

As the company inches closer to its national rollout on July 15, Comcast still has not reached deals with two of the biggest streaming platforms — Roku and Amazon — to make its service available on streaming devices connected to both brands, a source told The Desk on Wednesday.

Last September, Comcast offered no information about pricing and distribution when it announced the service. Since then, the company has lifted the curtain on its pricing scheme — one free and two premium tiers — as well as content availability and some distribution agreements.

The service became available first to customers of Comcast’s own cable and Internet services in April via its X1 and Flex platforms. The company has also committed to making the service available on Apple’s iOS devices, including Apple TV, as well as Android-powered devices and the Xbox One platforms.

Last week, Comcast announced it had reached agreements to bring Peacock to most LG and Vizio smart television sets as a native app. But no announcement to date has included Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices.

Combined, Roku and Amazon have around 70 percent of the streaming TV-specific hardware market. Both companies have leveraged their market dominance to try to secure distribution deals on terms that are favorable to them.

Those deals include data-sharing agreements and the right to sell subscriptions to streaming services to viewers natively through Roku and Amazon’s operating system, according to individuals familiar with the matter.

But content companies have started to resist these efforts, none more famously than AT&T. The telephone giant and owner of WarnerMedia pulled its AT&T TV service from Roku earlier this year after talks to continue carrying that app and another broke down.

The service was restored a few weeks ago, but AT&T’s newest streaming offering, HBO Max, has been absent from Roku devices since it launched late last month. It has also not been made available to customers of Amazon’s Fire TV hardware. Customers are instead being forced to use HBO Now, an earlier version of HBO’s streaming service, which has a substantially smaller catalog of movies and TV shows compared to HBO Max.

Like HBO Max, Peacock will combine several libraries of movies and TV shows that fall under various NBC and other brands owned by Comcast. At launch, Comcast customers were treated to movies from Comcast’s Universal Pictures library, past and current seasons of NBC network shows, a live stream of Sky News International and Peacock’s original programming, including a stay-at-home themed variety show hosted by comedian Seth McFarlane.

If Comcast doesn’t come to terms on a distribution deal with Roku and Amazon, users of both platforms will likely be shut out of two of the biggest streaming services to launch in mid-2020.

A source familiar with Roku’s negotiations said points of contention with AT&T WarnerMedia are different compared to Comcast for Peacock. The source, a Roku employee, asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the discussions and because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

With AT&T, Roku is asking for the company to open up its HBO Max service to those who have already paid for a subscription to HBO through the Roku Channel. Roku earns a commission for each subscription sold through the Roku Channel, and it believes customers should be allowed to access HBO Max since they’re paying for HBO, the source said.

But AT&T wants to scrap its agreement to sell HBO subscriptions through the Roku Channel and force customers to sign up for HBO Max directly. That arrangement is similar to one the company made with Apple, which had been selling HBO subscriptions and offering content directly through its Apple TV Plus channel until HBO Max launched.

At one point, AT&T offered Roku the option of selling subscriptions to HBO content through the Roku Channel in a way that would have allowed customers to access HBO Max content. That arrangement would have let Roku continue serving HBO content through the Roku Channel while requiring customers to download and use HBO Max for the extended library of shows and movies, the source said. Under that offer, AT&T would have extended its agreement with Roku to sell subscriptions, but only if Roku agreed to reduce its commission — currently around 30 percent of each subscription sold — to 15 percent, the source said. That offer was similar to one extended to Hulu, which began offering HBO Max app to its subscribers last month.

Roku declined the offer, according to the source.

Negotiations between Roku and Comcast are taking a different course, the source explained, noting that the issue hinges on advertisement revenue. At launch, Comcast is expected to offer three tiers — a free tier supported by advertisements, a paid tier with an extended content library and advertisements, and a paid premium tier with no advertisements.

Discussions are centering on the first two, with Roku asking for viewership data and the ability to insert its own advertisements at limited points during a viewing session, the source said. The platform has similar arrangements with advertisement video on demand, or AVOD, services offered by other companies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Crackle, Fox’s Tubi and ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV.

Comcast has expressed a willingness to provide a limited amount of viewership data to Roku, according to the source, but has resisted efforts to allow the streaming platform to insert its own commercial advertisements when viewers are watching Peacock movies and TV shows.

Conversations between executives at Roku and Comcast over Peacock are ongoing, and an announcement is still likely before the July 15 launch, the source said. The source said they were unaware of conversations happening between Amazon, AT&T and Comcast, over the two services.

An executive at Comcast confirmed to The Desk on Thursday that conversations with content providers were continuing, but declined to provide specific insight into terms being discussed. Officials at Roku, Amazon and AT&T did not return separate requests for comment.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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