Why HBO Max isn’t on Roku yet

Published on December 7, 2020

HBO Max is still unavailable on Roku. Ever since WarnerMedia launched the excellent streaming service, people have been waiting for the streaming platform to be available on Roku. Since May, however, HBO Max has remained absent on Roku TVs. Don’t expect that change anytime soon, either.

Negotiations between Roku and HBO Max have been ongoing since May. A few days ago, WarnerMedia dropped a bombshell piece of news. Every 2021 Warner Bros. title will be available on HBO Max. This month, the service is debuting Wonder Woman 1984 on the streaming platform. If you only have Roku, though, you probably won’t be able to watch it on your television. Wonder Woman 1984 and the recent Warner Bros. news may have given WarnerMedia an upper hand in the negotiations with Roku, though.

The two companies remain in active negotiations. Roku has 46 million subscribers, and HBO Max wants those subscribers. According to Variety, this is the conflict: “Roku wants to keep HBO/HBO Max as a channel it can sell directly to its own customers, while WarnerMedia is insisting that HBO Max be available as a standalone app.” There’s also a dispute over ad inventory, since HBO Max plans on becoming available next year at a cheaper price with advertisements in their content. 

Both Roku and HBO Max have plenty to lose if a deal doesn’t happen. For example, Roku is far less valuable to a consumer if it doesn’t offer HBO Max. The absence of the HBO Max app will likely hurt Roku’s sales during the holiday season. As for HBO Max, the streaming service needs more subscribers to make its grand 2021 game plan work. WarnerMedia is betting big on their app next year by releasing all their major studio films there. The company simply needs more subscribers, and more specifically, Roku customers. 

Roku’s stance over the last few years has been they’re needed more than they need studios. For a while now, the company hasn’t budged on adding Peacock to its service, either. Roku’s standard fee is 20% of subscription fees and 30% of ad inventory. Major players such as HBO Max, however, don’t want to give up that much of their pie. Roku founder and CEO, Anthony Wood, won’t falter, though. “All of their main competitors are available on the Roku platform,” he’s said. “Fair and reasonable content distribution deals are how we finance the low-cost easy-to-use Roku platform that consumers use to access these services on their TVs.”

Wood has remained confident in his position, at least publically. The CEO pointed to the success of Disney+ on Roku, which got 60 million subscribers in nine months.“When they streamed ‘Hamilton,’ we were the largest streaming platform of any of the streaming platforms, including phones,” Wood said. Like Wood, though, representatives of HBO Max are confident in their content as well. 

Amazon won’t allow HBO Max yet, either. It’s frustrating for movie and television fans, but even more frustrating for AT&T and WarnerMedia executives, who have called out Amazon. Months ago, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar expressed confidence the company’s fourth quarter will give HBO Max the upperhand. “As we head into the fourth quarter, when gift-giving happens, it becomes a more material situation for a seller of hardware,” he said.

Kilar is not wrong. Now that people are looking into gifts for the holidays, everyone knows about HBO Max’s game-changing industry plans. Consumers can watch some of the biggest Warner Bros. movies of next year, so why bother with Roku if the company isn’t offering to stream Wonder Woman 1984, The Matrix 4, Dune, and a load of other high-profile releases? We’ll see if a deal between Roku and HBO Max gets struck soon, but right now, it looks like the latter has the upper hand in negotiations now.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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