HBO Max Is Launching on Roku, After Device Maker and WarnerMedia Finally Bury the Hatchet
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Roku and WarnerMedia reached an agreement for the distribution of the HBO Max on the Roku platform — nearly seven months after the streaming service launched.
HBO Max will be live on Roku effective Thursday, Dec. 17, the companies announced. The deal gives the streaming service coverage on all major over-the-top platforms. Its absence on Roku was a big hole: Roku counted 46 million active user accounts as of the end of September.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but both sides claimed they were pleased with finally resolving their differences.
WarnerMedia was looking to nail down an HBO Max pact with Roku as the service’s last major distribution partner ahead of the Dec. 25 day-and-date premiere of “Wonder Woman 1984” starring Gal Gadot on both HBO Max and in theaters. Meanwhile, as previously announced, all films in Warner Bros.’s 2021 slate will debut on HBO Max in the U.S. concurrently with its theatrical release and will be available to stream exclusively for one month.
Under the deal, Roku users who have already subscribed to HBO through Roku will have the existing HBO app on their devices automatically updated to the HBO Max app, and they will be able to log in using their existing HBO credentials.
It appears that going forward, Roku will no longer be able to sell HBO as a channel subscription in the Roku Channel store, similar to the concessions both Amazon and Apple made in their agreements for HBO Max. Roku will sell subscriptions to HBO Max using Roku Pay, the payment service for its streaming devices.
Shares of Roku were up over 3% in after-hours trading after the HBO Max deal was announced.
“We believe that all entertainment will be streamed, and we are thrilled to partner with HBO Max to bring their incredible library of iconic entertainment brands and blockbuster slate of direct-to-streaming theatrical releases to the Roku households with more than 100 million people that have made Roku the No. 1 TV streaming platform in America,” Scott Rosenberg, SVP of Roku’s platform business, said in a statement.
Rosenberg added, “Reaching mutually beneficial agreements where Roku grows together with our partners is how we deliver an exceptional user experience at an incredible value for consumers, and we are excited by the opportunity to deepen our longstanding relationship with the team at WarnerMedia.”
Alluding to the controversial Warner Bros. film-release strategy, Tony Goncalves, chief revenue officer at WarnerMedia, said in a statement, “We’re breaking new ground in the months ahead, and we can’t wait to work with our longtime partners at Roku to build on our past successes and bring HBO Max’s best-in-class quality entertainment to Roku’s large and highly engaged audience.”
News of the deal between WarnerMedia and Roku comes a day after Comcast announced the rollout of the HBO Max app on Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Flex while it also launched on PlayStation 5 earlier today. Amazon clinched a deal in November to carry HBO Max on Fire TV and Fire Tablet devices, after holding out for several months and ultimately agreeing that it will stop selling HBO in Amazon Prime Video Channels.
Even before HBO Max launched in late May, Roku and WarnerMedia had been haggling over terms. Roku wanted to continue to have the ability to sell HBO through the Roku Channel store, while WarnerMedia was insistent on distributing HBO Max as a separate app. In addition, Roku wanted rights to a selection of HBO Max content for the free, ad-supported Roku Channel, but that is not part of the final deal. The two parties also were trying to come to an agreement over how advertising inventory would be split with Roku for the ad-supported, reduced-price version of HBO Max slated to come out in late 2021.
This past year, Roku played hardball in negotiations for both HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. That’s because Roku, unlike the other big OTT platform companies (Amazon, Google and Apple), fully relies on revenue generated via partner content and services to sustain its business model. Roku’s standard deal terms for content partners is to take 20% of subscription fees and 30% of ad inventory. In Peacock’s case, that ad split had been a nonstarter because the NBCU streamer carries a lighter ad load than most AVOD services; Roku and NBCU worked out a compromise in September.
Starting Dec. 17, Roku users can install the new HBO Max channel by searching for it or locating it in the “New and Notable” and “Movies & TV” categories of the Roku channel store.
HBO Max, which has a regular subscription price of $14.99 per month, touts 10,000 hours of curated premium content. That comprises the entire HBO originals library (with series including “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones” and “Lovecraft Country”) as well as TV shows and movies from Warner Bros., DC, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Turner Classic Movies. HBO Max is stocked with every episode of popular TV shows like “Friends,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “The Big Bang Theory,” with the entire “Gossip Girl” library coming next month.
In addition to the Christmas Day release of “Wonder Woman 1984,” HBO Max this month features the exclusive holiday special “My Gift: A Christmas Special” from Carrie Underwood, a new “Euphoria” special episode starring Zendaya, Steven Soderbergh’s comedy film “Let Them All Talk,” and four-part docuseries “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults.”
HBO Max’s January programming highlights include the second “Euphoria” special episode; “Search Party” Season 4; a new season of “Selena + Chef”; “Snowpiercer” Season 1; “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness”; and “The King of Staten Island.”
Variety's Todd Spangler contributed to this post.