UPDATE: Roku and NBCU reached a deal Friday afternoon that will provide access to the Peacock streaming app on the Roku platform. In addition, the companies renewed their agreement to keep NBCU’s TV apps on Roku.
Earlier: The dispute between Roku and NBCUniversal over distribution of the fledgling Peacock streaming service has taken a nasty turn.
Late Thursday, Comcast-owned NBCUniversal notified Roku that the media company plans to force Roku to pull access to NBCU’s TV Everywhere channels on the Roku platform, including the flagship NBC app. Comcast may require Roku to delete the channels, a total of 46 NBCU apps, as early as this weekend, according to a notice Roku sent to customers Friday morning.
In a statement, a Roku spokesman said, “Comcast is removing the channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms. While the NBC TV Everywhere apps represent an insignificant amount of streaming hours and revenue on our platform, we believe they are important to those consumers who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home.”
Asked for comment, an NBCU rep said, “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.”
NBCU’s distribution deal for the TV apps with Roku expired at the end of August. Roku had offered to extend the existing deal terms for those TV Everywhere channels while the parties keep trying to hammer out an agreement for Peacock. “Comcast has declined our extension offer and so far has also refused fair and equitable business terms for the distribution of Peacock — despite the fact that they stand to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue from its distribution on the Roku platform,” the Roku rep said.
NBCU launched Peacock nationwide July 15, but the service has been unavailable on Roku as well as Amazon Fire TV, two of the biggest streaming platforms in the U.S. market. HBO Max also is not available on Roku and Fire TV over deal-term disagreements.
With respect to Peacock on Roku, the impasse in talks relates to access to advertising inventory on the ad-supported versions of the NBCU streamer.
According to Roku, Peacock has refused to grant any ad inventory to Roku, arguing that it is offering the app at no cost to Roku customers and is delivering 5 minutes or less of ads per hour of programming, which it sells to a hand-picked set of marketers. Roku’s standard distribution terms ask for 30% of advertising inventory, and the company has offered to take an even lower split from Peacock, but NBCU has declined to share any portion of the ad avails.
A source familiar with NBCU’s position said Roku has kept adding new provisions as stipulations for carrying Peacock and added the media conglomerate has been willing to make concessions on the ad-revenue front.
Prior to the standoffs between Roku and NBCU’s Peacock and WarmerMedia’s HBO Max, the highest-profile case of a similar dispute was when Roku pulled Fox’s app from the platform in January 2020, less than three days before the Super Bowl. Fox called the move “a naked effort to use [Roku]’s customers as pawns.”
Roku sent an email to customers Friday warning them that NBCU has threatened to yank the TV Everywhere channels as soon 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,” the email reads.
In the notice, the company pointed out that Roku users can still access NBCUniversal’s channels in multiple ways on Roku devices, including via existing Comcast Xfinity, Charter and AT&T TV apps, as well as through internet live TV providers such as Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV Now and FuboTV.
As streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV increasingly use their large installed bases as leverage in discussions with content providers, Comcast is looking to develop its own video-streaming tech play. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia conference this week, said the company is exploring ways to license the X1 television platform to smart TV manufacturers “on a global basis.”
“We’re wondering, can we bring our same tech stack or certain capabilities in aggregation to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs?” Roberts said. “We’ve done that with X1 when we syndicated it to Canada and to other operators in the United States. And we see a similar road map possibly for that.”
Peacock is available in three tiers: Premium Free (with ads) and Peacock Premium, which includes a bigger content selection, available with ads ($4.99/month) and no ads ($9.99/month). In addition, Comcast Xfinity X1 and Flex customers and Cox Contour subscribers have access to Peacock Premium with ads for no extra charge (or the ad-free tier for $5/month).