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.

Filed Under: blackouts, contracts, streaming
Companies: at&t, roku


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 5:31am

    Why does there need to be an agreement between Roku and AT&T here? It's a subscription service. I thought Netflix proved years ago that getting your app on as many devices as possible is better than trying to own the device space. Or is it Roku trying to extract money from AT&T because of their strength in that market? Either is idiotic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Nathan F (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 5:41am

    And yet again, open source or pirated users are likely unaffected or minimally so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 5:50am

    Re:

    Because permission culture is rife in media unfortunately, doubly so since it applies to everything except sexual consent given that Weinstein was far from the only predator, plenty of CEOs were also forced to step down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 6:13am

    When these disputes result in loss of content access, is that then considered a breach of contract and therefore any and all early termination fees are null and void?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 6:18am

    And this is why you never "buy" a device you need the manufacturer's permission to install software on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Michael, 10 Jan 2020 @ 6:48am

    Re:

    Roku gets a cut of the subscriptions from content providers that have apps available on their devices.

    This is (most likely) a dispute about that amount.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    teka, 10 Jan 2020 @ 9:19am

    Re:

    it might, except for the user agreement, that they can change at any time, that contains lawyer-speak code that means "you agree to keep paying even if the service stops working and get no compensation ever for anything lost at any point even if we make your TV explode on purpose out of spite"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 10:55am

    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.

    More like "sorry, not sorry because we're greedy and we couldn't care less about the end user as long as we get more money from somebody."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:19pm

    Black Outs

    The pay TV provider balks, and blacks out the aforementioned content. Consumers spend a few months paying for content they can't access

    When this happens to me, I unapologetically hit the torrent sites for the shows I'm missing. As you say, I've already paid for the content, so I'm not pirating it. I'm just getting what I paid for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:26pm

    its taken years..

    The TV corps still aint got this.
    Ove rthe last 20 years they have gone back and forth, either sending the data to a site to use for their Service, or trying to build their own.
    Hulu Loved trying to keep up with all the changes in contracts. And finally had to goto a pay site, with adverts also(dont knwo if they still have adverts)
    Many services have gone up, trying to give free access to shows, and Some work, Some want more money and start adverts, some do adverts BETTER then TV or any of the rest, 30 sec and thats it.

    The Corps have gotten themselves in trouble a few times, esp on the Cartoon sites and adverts, NOT for children.

    Beyond all of this tends to be a mentality of How much can we get for this crap. How many times can we get paid for 1 thing, broadcast over and over and over. How many ways can we send this to them and Advert on everyone of them, so we get paid over and over and over.
    How much money is enough?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:28pm

    Re: its taken years..

    Just an off point..
    When all our money goes to all the corps, Who pays taxes? Not the corps. And the employees get under paid. And the gov. wonders where its all going.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 1:40pm

    Correction

    Rinse, wash, repeat.

    It's "wash, rinse, repeat".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    nasch (profile), 12 Jan 2020 @ 5:27am

    Horizontal integration

    One more reason companies should not be allowed to own both infrastructure and content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2020 @ 6:27am

    Re: Re:

    There are many technical and legal concerns when using another company's platform as well, it's not just about subscriptions.
    Agreements have to be in place to define how the services will even integrate with each other.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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