Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Comcast and Roku have come to an agreement months after NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service launched. Peacock will be available to stream on Roku in the coming weeks.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Comcast that will bring Peacock to Roku customers and maintains access to NBCU’s TV Everywhere apps,” a Roku spokesperson said. “We look forward to offering these new options to consumers under an expanded, mutually beneficial relationship between our companies that includes adding NBC content to The Roku Channel and a meaningful partnership around advertising.”
The decision comes after Comcast and Roku got into a public argument over the status of dozens of NBCUniversal apps. Comcast threatened to pull the apps as negotiations over Peacock continued; this included 11 network apps, 12 NBC-owned stationed apps, and 23 Telemundo apps. Both Comcast and Roku pointed fingers at each other for walking away from ongoing negotiations at the time, but just hours after the announcement came, word came that a deal, which would include Peacock landing on Roku, was imminent. Peacock is still unavailable on Amazon Fire TV devices.
In linear television, this strategy leads to carriage disputes. These are periods of time when certain channels and programming are unavailable because the cable providers and the content providers can’t agree on a deal. They’re referred to as “blackout periods.” In this specific instance, Roku, a streaming aggregator that carries content to TV sets, is the cable provider. Comcast is putting pressure on Roku to try to make a deal by removing content, while Roku can argue that without its platform, millions of people will find other ways to watch said content.
(Disclosure: Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is also an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.)
For months, neither Roku nor Comcast could come to an agreement over aspects of the deal. A big part of that had to do with advertising inventory. This refers to the percentage of ads Roku takes control over once they’re served on its platform. On Roku’s website, the company says a channel controls 70 percent of its ad inventory, with Roku controlling the remaining 30 percent. Despite counteroffers that both parties brought to the table, neither Roku nor Comcast and NBCUniversal’s team believed them to be fair.
“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,” NBCUniversal’s spokesperson told The Verge on September 18th.
Another concern that’s been cited in reports by CNBC is how people watch Peacock. NBCUniversal is “hesitant about connecting Peacock with third-party ad tech software it can’t control,” a report from CNBC in June stated, primarily because NBCUniversal built an entirely new form of advertising tech explicitly for Peacock. The technology NBCUniversal built helps to better track user data, sell hyper-targeted ads, and increase revenue.
“More than 15 million people signed up for Peacock since its national launch in July and we are thrilled millions more will now be able to access and enjoy Peacock along with other NBCUniversal apps on their favorite Roku devices,” an NBCUniversal spokesperson said in a statement.
Comcast is far from the only company that Roku has publicly feuded with over the last few months. AT&T and Roku have been at a standstill over WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service. Several changes have occurred to what HBO options Roku customers have as AT&T figures out its plan to bring HBO Max to as many customers as possible, on terms that the company is comfortable with. HBO Max head Tony Goncalves told The Verge in June, just after HBO Max’s launch, that AT&T wants HBO Max to be on Roku — but it wants to be treated fairly.
“Disney Plus and Netflix and Hulu and these other apps are on those platforms,” Goncalves said. “There’s a certain business model that exists. We just want the same one. I’m hopeful that, ultimately, we’ll get there, and we’ll get there with the consumer in mind. But we just didn’t get there on day one.”
With Peacock finally on Roku, the next question is when AT&T and Roku will find a deal that works for them and bring HBO Max to Roku customers.
Update Friday September 18th, 6:39pm ET: The story has been updated to include a statement from NBCUniversal.