Old School TV Gatekeepers (AT&T, Comcast), Struggle With Modern Streaming Gatekeepers (Amazon, Roku)

from the meet-the-new-boss... dept

In years past, incumbent broadband and television giants like Comcast and AT&T enjoyed life from a comfortable position of dominance. If you want to subscribe to broadband, such companies are often your only option. If you wanted to subscribe to television service, you were required to rent a locked down, highly proprietary cable box courtesy of the industry’s cable hardware monopoly. Want to have your cable channel in a conspicuous position in the lineup? You could also expect headaches.

As such, it’s interesting to watch how these giants of yesterday are now struggling to adapt to a new era in which their interests are not the end all, be all of negotiations.

As AT&T tries to reverse the tide of TV customer defections, it has turned to the launch of yet another streaming service: HBO Max. But the company’s efforts haven’t gone as planned, with the service unavailable on two of the most dominant TV streaming hardware platforms (Roku and Amazon) due to contract disputes. AT&T, a government pampered giant that traditionally enjoys playing the role of the politically powerful bully (remember net neutrality?), hasn’t been able to break this logjam despite HBO Max having launched a month ago:

“But streaming is an entirely new battlefield, with platforms like Roku and Fire TV becoming the main distributors. And legacy media companies like WarnerMedia and Disney are streaming newcomers with everyone seeking to challenge Netflix. None of the three companies would comment on the state of talks or say what the current impasse is over. Analysts agree that it probably harms HBO Max as it seeks to find its footing more than Roku and Amazon, which have built their businesses and subscriber bases over the past few years.”

Comcast, despite all of its money, political influence, and power, is running into the same problem. The company’s upcoming new streaming service, Peacock, also won’t be launching on Roku (39% market share) or Amazon (30% market share) streaming hardware. It’s a disadvantaged position AT&T and Comcast certainly aren’t quite used to:

“Combined, Roku and Amazon have around 70 percent of the streaming TV-specific hardware market. Both companies have leveraged their market dominance to try to secure distribution deals on terms that are favorable to them. Those deals include data-sharing agreements and the right to sell subscriptions to streaming services to viewers natively through Roku and Amazon?s operating system, according to individuals familiar with the matter.”

There are different negotiations hangups for both AT&T and Verizon. The AT&T and Roku standoff purportedly centers around AT&T being unwilling to let Roku customers who’ve already paid for HBO via Roku (who gets a cut) access AT&T’s HBO Max app (read: AT&T doesn’t want middlemen getting a cut). The Roku and Comcast standoff, in contrast, allegedly is focused on a dispute over advertising and access to viewer tracking data. In both instances, dominant monopolists are now being forced to compromise as they attempt to pivot to disruption… and at least so far, it’s not going particularly well.

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Companies: amazon, at&t, comcast, roku

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Comments on “Old School TV Gatekeepers (AT&T, Comcast), Struggle With Modern Streaming Gatekeepers (Amazon, Roku)”

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16 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not sure what the number are, but if they’re low, they may rise or new alternatives will come into existence if personal experience is anything to go by.

I’ve seen a family that had 3 different TVs (all bought at different times); as well as a stand-alone roku box, and of the 4 devices the only one that can show content from all desired streaming services is the roku. Two of the TVs are missing the apps needed (with no obvious way to install them), and the third’s app does not behave well and often fails to stream requested content.

As such a stand-alone box (either Roku/Amazon branded or repurposed PC) is proving to be a superior option than "Smart" TV applications.

MDT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Standalone Hardware

We have 3 ‘smart’ TVs. All of them had major issues with apps, either not existing, or couldn’t be updated, or just horribly buggy and broken.

We ended up buying three HD Roku boxes, and haven’t looked back. They update regularly, the apps work 99+% of the time, and we can all be streaming HD shows and no flickers or stutters. Plus the pictures are clean and crisp on the tvs.

We would get HBO Max, at least to try it, if it was on Roku, but until it is, we won’t. We don’t watch our tv on our computers (especially since we have 50+ inch tv’s that are 4K).

If AT&T wants any of my money, they’ll just have to give Roku a cut.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Standalone Hardware

I concur with this completely. After my first "smart" TV, I disconnected it from my WiFi, bought a Roku (the first one) and other than updating the Roku HW once, I haven’t thought of or considered a different alternative.

I may move on from Roku eventually. Like if they turn into what I escaped when I turned my cable TV off and cut the cord but until then, if it’s not on Roku, it’s not on my (not connected) ‘smart’ TV.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Standalone Hardware

Can I add to this?
Iv setup multiple homes to have Roku(even by my selection) or other ways to watch movies, TV, Anime, FREE after you pay your Money for the internet..
From Tablets, they can use anywhere in the home, Phones, computers..And the Current selection of TV boxes..there are at least 3 of them, including Google, Amazon, Roku.
AND ALL of them have free channels. GREAT channels.

Watch what you want, when you want, and even PAUSE the show to answer the door for the PIZZA. you DONT need a proprietary BOX that you CANT record from.
You get everything that you wish in a TV/CABLE, More and almost everything you want. And anyone with a Internet connection, Or EVEN a Smart phone Can want.

CyberKender says:

Re: Re: Re:

Personally, I think smart TVs are the worst way to go. Effectively, they’re Android devices with GIANT screens. And since they’re only supported for 2-3 years, once the ‘smart’ part is obsolete, you’re expected to buy a new $500+ TV, but you’ve still got a screen will that should be good for another 5-10 years.
Been very happy with my Rokus for several years now and I expect that will continue for the foreseeable future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazone Fire TV is "barely working hardware" anyway

Their refusal to play with AT&T is just the last straw to and makes me happy dump all amazon hardware from my house. I was excited when they started the Fire TV ecosystem, but its just been so underwhelming. Barely responsive UI, constantly needing to reboot it and other random bugs. I’m migrating to Chromecast and happy to leave the Walmart of the Internet (Amazon) behind.

Phillip (profile) says:

Re: Amazone Fire TV is "barely working hardware" anyway

my 1st gen fire tv is unable to keep up with all the options and information these days, but i have several newer ones that still work better than anything else. While chromecast works pretty well the fact that there is no remote and you have to use a phone to control it means sticking to fire sticks or roku for my wife anv guests.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I work for company that takes Hulu calls. I imagine its for account management. You need an email to get password reset emails sent at a minimum. No company will manually update a password over the phone, they will email you.

Not that they won’t also use that data to target ads of course, but there are legitimate technical reasons in this case =D

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course att and Comcast struggle to make a deal with roku or amazon, they are not used to competing with anyone. They are used to raising prices and putting usage caps on other services They are used to making donations to certain politicians and getting laws passed to block
any possible competition like municipal broadband.
One of the reasons why people use roku is most tvs
have apps that are not updated or have a limited no of streaming channels. People also use TV apps on Sony or Xbox consoles.

MikeVx (profile) says:

I managed to duck some streaming monitoring.

Not surprising that some of the new services are trying to both avoid paying money to Roku and Amazon and data-mine the daylights out of their "customers". Even Amazon realizes that Roku rules the roost on streaming, with Prime Video being available on Roku units.

Slightly off target, but I figure some on this thread might be interested.

I managed to find a 49.5 inch TV, with 4 HDMI ports, and NO network connectivity.

No apps apart from the user interface.

I connected it to a Roku. There is a Kodi box for playing video files over my network, a region-free blu-ray player, a RetroFreak and a PS Classic. I know that’s one more device than ports, switches are wonderful things.

The big point being, this TV can’t spy on me. I don’t have to worry about software updates bricking the unit., or killing functions on the TV. The Roku is another story, but at least it can’t report my other devices program viewing back to the mother ship like most smart TVs can.

So as not to be tagged as a spammer, I’ll just give you the name and model. The unit is an Element E4AA50N-G. I’ll leave it to anyone interested to find the on-line dealer who can sell you one.

I got an upgraded Roku to be able to do 4K, and, to my irritation, it default added most of the large paid streaming apps that I had deleted off my old unit, plus a few that didn’t exist way back when. A few minutes to get rid of, but decidedly unsubtle.

rkhalloran (profile) says:

Waiting for AT&T to catch a clue

On AT&T’s fiber service, so I’m entitled to HBO Max gratis. That said, neither my LG smart TV or my Roku boxes can get the service, and I’m uninterested in picking up YA streaming box such as Chromecast just for their stuff when everything else I’m interested in is already available. Planning to dump their DirecTV once my contract is up in the fall, so streaming options are important.

That AT&T can launch a service to try and staunch the flood of cord-cutters, then ignore 2/3 of the streaming platform market (Roku & Amazon) astounds me. Old-school monopoly mindset still in play I suppose. At some point they’re bound to deal with their cranio-rectal inversion, in the meantime AT&T can suck it.

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