Roku, less than three days before Super Bowl LIV is set to air on Fox, has removed all Fox Corp. channels from the Roku Channel Store — a move the broadcaster called a “poorly timed negotiating ploy.”
In a tweet Thursday, Roku said that its distribution deal with Fox Corp. was set to expire on Jan. 31 “so Fox channels were removed from the Roku Channel Store.” The Fox channels remain available (for now) if a Roku user previously downloaded them.
[UPDATE: Late Friday, Roku and Fox Corp. announced an agreement keeping Fox channels on Roku.]
The device maker said Roku users can still view Fox programming — including this Sunday’s Super Bowl — through over-the-top pay-TV services, including Dish’s Sling TV, Hulu Live, YouTube TV and Fubo. Roku customers also can stream the Super Bowl for free via the NFL channel on Roku (unless Fox blocks that). A Roku rep also noted that Roku TV customers can use an antenna to watch Fox’s broadcast channels.
According to Roku, the company offered Fox an extension to their previous agreement while they worked out a new deal but that Fox turned it down. “Our discussions with Fox continue and we hope that Fox will agree to an agreement soon,” the Roku spokeswoman said.
In a statement, Fox Corp. said that Roku’s removal of Fox apps represented “a naked effort to use its customers as pawns.”
“To be clear, Fox has not asked Roku to remove our apps, and we would prefer Roku continue to make them available without interruption,” the company said in a statement Friday to Variety. “Roku’s tactics are a poorly timed negotiating ploy, fabricating a crisis with no thought for the alarm it generated among its own customers.”
Fox added that Super Bowl LIV will be “ubiquitously available” through streaming providers, including via Fox apps on “the biggest streaming platforms and our website.” The company has a deal with Amazon under which the Fire TV platform is being promoted as its “preferred 4K streaming experience” for the NFL championship game.
Super Bowl LIV, pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs, will air on Fox’s broadcast stations on Sunday, Feb. 2, starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will be free to stream on NFL Digital apps and site; Fox Sports and Fox Deportes Digital apps and websites; and Yahoo Sports mobile web apps.
“Only Roku can pull apps from its customers’ devices, and we would urge them to stop the intimidation tactics and reconsider the merits of irritating their best customers in pursuit of Roku’s own interests,” Fox Corp. said in the statement.
Roku has removed the following Fox channels from its store: Fox Now, Fox Sports, Fox News Channel and Fox Nation, Fox Business, Fox Soccer, and Big Ten Network.
The spat between Roku and Fox Corp. calls to mind the retransmission-consent disputes between pay-TV operators and broadcasters, which over the years have led to numerous TV channels going dark after the parties reach an impasse in contract talks.
On Friday, Roku’s stock dropped more than 5% in morning trading after news of the dispute with Fox Corp.