Fox and Roku are in the midst of a fight that could impact the ability of some customers to watch the Super Bowl. And consumers are likely to see more such streaming conflicts in the future that could affect the way they watch sports and news.
The battle between streaming player platform company Roku and Fox shows how the power has shifted from cable to streaming, notes Peter Csathy, the president of the CREATV Media consultancy.
Streaming platforms such as Roku and Amazon Prime Video “will increasingly take a harder line,” he says. “This is an example of the transformation of power in the media and entertainment business.”
The dispute went public Thursday afternoon when fans of Fox Sports and Fox News smart TV apps got a pre-Super Bowl surprise e-mail from Roku: It was dumping Fox from its platform.
Such viewers got the word despite all the hype about watching the San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in 4K (Ultra High Dynamic Range) resolution via a recent Roku or Amazon streaming player.
Fox’s distribution agreement with Roku was set to expire Jan. 31, and Roku was playing hardball.
Roku says this is the first time it has taken down a channel, although the company is also having negotiation issues with AT&T, whose AT&T Now channel was removed from Roku’s app store recently. The AT&T Now channel is still operational, as are the Fox apps. Now. If no contract is signed soon, the Fox apps will be automatically deleted from our Roku devices by Sunday, says Roku.
“We don’t have the rights to distribute content with no agreement in place,” says Roku vice-president Tricia Mifsud.
Amazon has had similar contract battles, but only with one company, Google. Amazon yanked Google’s YouTube from the service due to a corporate spat.YouTube is back on Fire TV and Echo speakers.
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For Roku, the issue comes down to the same thing fueling the cable battles: money. Entertainment firms pay a carriage fee to be on the cable lineup. Roku has built itself up as an advertising company, getting a cut of the ad revenues from major media partners in exchange for the distribution. Roku had said it expects to reap more than $1 billion in revenues in 2019, growing to $1.6 billion in 2020, with the bulk coming from advertising.
Clearly both Fox and Roku each are attempting to negotiate a different cut.
Fox calls Roku’s action “a poorly timed negotiating ploy, fabricating a crisis with no thought for the alarm it generated among its own customers.”
And Fox enlisted its A-players – including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Piro – to tweet messages urging customers to complain to Roku.
This shifted the conversation from one of sports fans being inconvenienced to one of political bias.
Roku put out a statement Friday reminding viewers the many other ways to stream the Super Bowl on a Roku device: through a high-priced subscription to Hulu + Live TV, FuboTV ($55 monthly), YouTube TV ($50), or Sling TV ($30.) The best deal: watch for free on the NFL app, “unless Fox blocks it,” noted a Roku rep.
Roku and Fox both say talks continue. Csathy predicts there will be a deal, and all will be well prior to kickoff.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter.