Update: The months-long standoff between Roku and NBCUniversal’s Peacock is over. The two companies have reached a deal to give Roku users access to the new-ish streaming service, sources told Vulture Friday (and Roku later confirmed via statement). Peacock has been MIA from the Roku platform since its July 15 national launch, a victim of squabbling between the companies over revenue sharing, NBCU’s desire to use its own ad-serving tech and whether or not NBC-owned content would be added to Roku’s free programming service the Roku Channel.
Neither side was commenting on terms of the deal, though a Roku spokesman said the agreement represents “an expanded, mutually beneficial relationship between our companies that includes adding NBC content to The Roku Channel and a meaningful partnership around advertising.” A rep for Peacock said the deal indicates that “Roku recognizes the value in making NBCUniversal’s incredible family of apps and programming, including Peacock, available to all of their users across the country.” Look for Peacock to begin showing up in the Roku app store within days. Meanwhile, a rep for HBO Max tells Vulture there are no new developments in that streamer’s battle with Roku. In addition, Peacock and HBO Max have also not yet announced a deal to join Amazon’s Fire TV platform.
Original Post: NBCUniversal has spent millions hyping the launch of Peacock. The ads are everywhere, and they’re very effective at selling the service. Unfortunately, many of the consumers inspired by those promos to check out Peacock are just now finding out that you can’t do that on television — if you do your streaming with a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device, at least. Much the same way HBO Max was unable to come to an agreement to get its service on those platforms, Peacock has so far been similarly plucked over by the device-makers’ demands.
While the situation with Peacock isn’t identical to what’s going on with HBO Max (and HBO Original Recipe, which won’t be streamable at all on Roku as of next month), the basic issue boils down to two things: money (shocker!) and data. Like Apple, Roku long ago decided it didn’t want to just make money selling hardware. It now makes much of its cash selling advertising, either by giving over space on its homepage to streamers looking to sell their apps and shows, or more recently, through its own Roku Channel, which competes with services like Peacock by aggregating library content from studios and networks and offering them for free to users. Peacock may have Parks and Recreation, but the legendar-(ily mediocre) Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan calls the Roku Channel home. (And if you don’t think I’ve been watching episodes of it on Roku, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to my Twitter feed.)
Amazon and its Fire TV platform are also in the ad business, mostly through the IMDb TV free streaming service (which is very similar to the Roku Channel). And both companies have been going further than simply selling ads: They also want to control how audiences get their streaming programming. That may sound very consumer-friendly, except that it means streamers cede control of how users experience and discover content from their platforms and, more importantly, it means losing access to precious subscriber data, such as how subscribers binge a show.
Where the battle stands now: Amazon isn’t commenting about talks with the new streamers. But Roku isn’t hiding its desire to get paid for putting Peacock on its devices, blaming owner Comcast for the standoff. “It’s disappointing that Comcast has refused reasonable and standard industry terms and decided not to launch Peacock on Roku at a time when streaming is surging,” a rep for the company said via email. “We want to bring Peacock to our large customer base of avid streamers … Unfortunately, Comcast is trying to launch a primarily ad-supported business while refusing to share in the ad model with platform partners.”
How will it all shake out? Industry insiders familiar with the situation say NBCU actually isn’t refusing to compensate Roku (or Amazon) for being on those platforms. Its objections have been focused on not wanting to give up control of its advertising inventory and user experience. Earlier this week, a rep for Peacock said negotiations were continuing. And late last month, Peacock boss Matt Strauss told me he was “hopeful” about being able to “get everybody on board” at some point. “I’m not going to get into details of ongoing negotiations,” he said. “But we think we offer all the distribution partners a really interesting product. We’ve got a different idea than others have. And we think that this should be very interesting to them.”