The sense of optimism is such, according to those privvy to the discussions, that the threat that NBCUniversal’s TV Everywhere streaming apps would go dark as early as this evening has subsided. For now, the apps remain up and running and the sense is that the standoff could soon be resolved with a deal.
Presence on Roku, which reaches 43 million active users, is seen as an important building block for Peacock. The streaming service, which launched in April in Comcast’s footprint and then nationally in July, has claimed to have 15 million sign-ups but has not released any other viewership metrics.
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Roku, a major streaming gatekeeper, has reached an impasse with NBCUniversal over its nascent Peacock service and a swath of NBCU apps are about to go dark as a result.
As soon as overnight Friday into Saturday, 11 national “TV Everywhere” apps, which are available to pay-TV subscribers, will disappear from Roku due to the dispute. Dozens of other local apps from NBC and Telemundo stations, which are available only to Roku viewers in those local markets, are also hanging in the balance.
Negotiations between the companies over the past few weeks have gone south, multiple sources confirm. With ad-supported services, Roku typically takes 30% of ad inventory, but ads are the bedrock of Peacock, which is designed to tap into the existing ad expertise of NBCU. Peacock has limited ad breaks to five minutes per hour. The streaming effort is the strategic centerpiece at NBCU and has driven a large-scale reorganization of the company in recent months.
Terms for the ad share could not be reached, and there is also the complication of Peacock Premium, a higher tier available for either $5 a month with ads or $10 without. As with other subscription services, Roku offers access to its 43 million active accounts but also expects a cut in exchange.
Peacock launched on the broadband and cable systems of NBCU parent Comcast last April before a national rollout in July. Comcast CEO this week said it has attracted 15 million sign-ups thus far, with many likely drawn to the free offering as free streaming gains traction in the overall marketplace.
The battle between NBCU and Roku is not an isolated one. HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s just-launched service, remains dark on Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Over the past year, five multi-billion-dollar new streamers have entered the crowded marketplace, and distribution has gotten complicated. As much as new streaming hopefuls want to control the consumer experience — and valuable data — third parties like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Google and Apple play a big role in getting streaming apps off the ground.
TV Everywhere, which began in the early 2010s as an effort by the cable industry to keep viewers in the fold, has seen mixed success. While programmers see it as a valuable way to safeguard content, the logistics, marketing and technical execution of it have left something to be desired. Viewers were forced to re-authenticate their credentials, leading to a cumbersome experience, especially compared with fast-rising services like Netflix. Major media figures like Discovery CEO David Zaslav publicly blasted the initiative as confusing.
In spite of all that, even after rolling out Peacock, NBCU has a significant stake in TV Everywhere in terms of both viewership and advertising. For it and other traditional players, the transition to Peacock as the alpha and omega will not be an overnight one.
“This is deeply disappointing,” Roku said in a statement, “and the wrong way to treat subscribers, many of whom are Comcast customers, who pay to access these channels via their cable TV subscriptions and now will no longer be able to view these TV Everywhere channels on Roku, their platform of choice. While these NBC TV Everywhere apps represent a very small number of streaming hours on our platform, we believe they are convenient to people who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home.”
NBCU fired back: “We are disappointed Roku is removing its users’ FREE access to NBCUniversal programming – 11 network apps, 12 NBC Owned Station apps, 23 Telemundo Owned Station apps – and continues to block access to the only free premium streaming service available in the market, Peacock. Roku’s unreasonable demands ultimately hurt both their consumers and their consumer equipment partners to whom they’ve promised access to all apps in the marketplace. “
Here is the email Roku sent to its customers Friday morning:
Dear Roku Customer,
Comcast informed Roku that they plan to take away consumers’ access to NBCUniversal’s TV Everywhere channels on the Roku platform. TV Everywhere channels allow Roku users to stream channels that are part of the traditional Pay TV package they subscribe to. Comcast may require Roku to delete these channels as early as this weekend.
This is deeply disappointing and the wrong way to treat subscribers, many of whom are Comcast customers, who pay to access these channels via their cable TV subscriptions and now will no longer be able to view these TV Everywhere channels on Roku, their platform of choice. While these NBC TV Everywhere apps represent a very small number of streaming hours on our platform, we believe they are convenient to people who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home.
Comcast is removing these channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms.
Roku’s goal is to bring you a wide selection of content and to help content producers build large audiences. We asked Comcast to extend our existing arrangement for their TV Everywhere channels as-is so that they remain accessible while we continue to work towards a Peacock agreement. Comcast declined to extend and also refused fair and normal business terms for the distribution of Peacock.
Fortunately, Roku customers can still access NBCUniversal’s channels many ways on Roku devices. Existing Xfinity, Charter, or AT&T TV customers can stream NBCUniversal’s channels on the Xfinity Stream, Spectrum TV and AT&T TV channels available in the Roku Channel Store. You can also watch NBCUniversal’s networks through other Live TV providers such as AT&T TV Now, FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV, many of which offer free trials. Comcast’s decision does not affect access to the Xfinity Stream app.
We know that you stand to benefit from Comcast and Roku reaching an agreement that preserves access to TV Everywhere channels, expands choice in free content and respects your desire to watch content on the platform of your choosing. We are committed to trying to achieve that goal.
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