HBO Max is Somehow Still in a Stalemate With Roku

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Is HBO Max on Roku yet? It’s the resounding question that has followed the WarnerMedia streaming service since it launched in May, and the answer will be “no” for quite a bit longer. Despite the looming debut of Warner Bros.’ biggest theatrical movies on HBO Max, WarnerMedia and Roku are still at a standstill regarding HBO Max’s launch on the streaming device. And neither are showing any signs of budging.

Last week, WarnerMedia changed the game with its announcement that all 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical releases would get a day-and-date release on HBO Max. It was the kind of divisive move that left ripples throughout the movie industry — potentially dooming movie theaters, costing producing partners billions of dollars — but also seemed like the checkmate for the long-running impasse between HBO Max and Roku. Roku, the most popular streaming device in the U.S., was the last holdout for HBO Max, whose slow rollout across devices like Apple TV, gaming consoles, and Amazon Fire cost Warner millions of subscribers. If HBO Max could get on Roku, it could gain the new subscribers it needs to make back its losses from sending its theatrical releases to streaming. But that won’t happen, according to a report from Variety.

Despite the gauntlet that HBO Max laid down with the Warner Bros. 2021 slate, Roku is not budging on the issue of HBO Max launching as its own standalone app. Variety reports:

Sources confirm to Variety that WarnerMedia and Roku are in active talks. But both sides have signaled that they are unwilling to budge on their positions: 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. The companies are also hashing out the terms for how they will divvy up ad inventory for the ad-subsidized version of HBO Max, which WarnerMedia plans to launch for a reduced price later in 2021.

In the end, it’s all about the money and who it goes to. If Roku is able to sell HBO and HBO Max subscriptions as a channel, it can tap into the ad revenue, but if WarnerMedia gets its way and HBO Max is launched as a standalone app, all the money goes straight to Warner. This issue was the same reason for the hold-up on Amazon Fire devices, but WarnerMedia ended up winning in that standoff.

So, it becomes a countdown to Christmas, with Wonder Woman 1984 set to become the hottest title debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day. Warner also sees the holiday season as a boon to its case against Roku too, with people more apt to buy new streaming devices, and not subscriptions, as gifts. But Roku appears to be pretty confident that its large user base — which is at an estimated 52 million user accounts — is enough of a draw for HBO Max to bend in this stalemate:

As a result, HBO Max’s annual average subscriber base would need to be 8.4 million higher than its current pace of additions for WarnerMedia to make itself whole, according to Moffett. “The market has shown a clear preference for go-big-or-go-home digital strategies,” he wrote in a research note Friday. “The most obvious takeaway from yesterday’s news is that AT&T is, come hell or high water, going to drive traffic to HBO Max.”

And Roku, boosted by the COVID pandemic, has seen significant momentum. The company will close out 2020 with an estimated 52 million user accounts — with have a footprint representing around 40% of all U.S. broadband households, according to Rosenblatt Securities.

Meanwhile, the question of “Is HBO Max on Roku?” will continue to be unanswered.

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