AT&T TV Service Goes Dark On Roku As The Streaming Wars Get Stupid
from the meet-the-new-boss dept
For years cable customers have been plagued by content blackouts as cable providers and broadcasters bicker over new programming contracts. So called “retransmission feuds” usually go something like this: a broadcaster demands a cable company pay twice as much money to carry the same content. The pay TV provider balks, and blacks out the aforementioned content. Consumers spend a few months paying for content they can’t access, while the two sides bitch at each other and try to leverage consumer anger against the other guy. After a while a new confidential deal is struck, and customers face a higher bill with little to show for it. Rinse, wash, repeat.
While some might think the innovative streaming revolution is going to fix stupidity like this, evidence suggests that’s not likely. This week, AT&T’s creatively-named streaming app, AT&T TV Now, was unceremoniously pulled from all Roku streaming hardware after a contract between the two companies expired and they couldn’t agree on a new one. As a result, existing users can still access the AT&T streaming apps on the platform, but any new AT&T TV subscribers will suddenly find the app won’t work on the most popular streaming platform on the market:
“AT&T may ultimately hurt more than Roku from the dispute: Roku is one of the top streaming hardware devices in the United States, with around one in four homes picking it over similar devices offered from Apple and Amazon. On the other hand, AT&T has been losing ground to startup services like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo since the company nearly doubled its subscription fee since it launched a few years ago.”
It’s possible the stand off involves a dispute over revenue from collected consumer data, given AT&T’s ambitions in the video ad space. But, just like the retrans fights of old, nobody’s actually willing to say what the problem is, because consumer welfare (as usual) is a distant afterthought. AT&T’s website statement to consumers is murky at best on what caused the blackout and when it might get resolved:
“Starting January 1, 2020, you won?t be able to add the AT&T TV channel to your Roku device. Already have AT&T TV on your Roku device? You can keep using it as long as you don?t delete the app. We?re actively working on a new agreement with Roku and hope to resolve this soon.”
In the interim, users who just got a shiny new Roku for Christmas and already pay AT&T for TV services are just shit out of luck, sorry. When you combine retrans fights with these new hardware/app maker feuds, one gets the impression these kinds of standoffs are only going to get dumber. In its fight over TV rates with Cablevision in 2010, News Corporation got Hulu to block Cablevision broadband customers from accessing all Fox content. Viacom did something similar in 2014 when it blocked all CableONE broadband customers from accessing Viacom content online, even if those broadband users were paying for TV from another provider.
US regulators generally don’t step into these kinds of feuds, viewing them as little more than gentlemanly debates, even if consumers are getting the short end of the stick. Given the FCC all but obliterating its own authority over telecom and cable at lobbyist behest, and the number of companies all vying for exclusive access to consumer viewing data and control over your viewing hardware, you can probably predict this kind of stuff is only going to get dumber in the next few years.