Six long months after HBO Max launched, it will finally be available Tuesday on Amazon Fire TV devices. The deal marks a resolution to one half of HBO Max’s biggest problem: the service’s unavailability on Amazon and Roku devices, which together represent 70 percent of the connected TV market.
One question remains: When will HBO Max come to Roku? It’s a question that’s as important to WarnerMedia as it is to Roku users.
After HBO Max launched in May, many users of the top two smart TV platforms were frustrated to learn that they would be unable to use WarnerMedia’s service. They were forced to use legacy HBO apps, which don’t offer HBO Max library content, such as “South Park,” or new exclusives like “Search Party” or “Charm City Kings.” Or they’d have to sign up to the HBO channel on Prime Video.
Other inelegant workarounds exist, including most recently a Roku update that allows iOS users to cast HBO Max from their iPhones to their Roku devices.
It’s likely that the lack of easy access on the two platforms contributed to a slow start for HBO Max. Parent company AT&T last month reported 8.6 million activations of HBO Max in Q3, meaning just 30 percent of existing HBO subscribers — who already have access to HBO Max at no additional charge — have signed into the upgraded service. The remaining 70 percent are either watching HBO on cable or using legacy apps, Variety reported.
As IndieWire reported in August, Roku’s demands on user data and ad inventory have stalled negotiations between the two sides. Negotiations were similarly at an impasse between Amazon and WarnerMedia.
Amazon and WarnerMedia announced Monday that the stalemate had ended: The HBO Max app will be available Tuesday for Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets. Details of the agreement were not released.
Bringing Amazon and Roku users into the HBO Max fold is crucial for the service’s success in the streaming wars: Amazon Fire TV has some 40 million users. Roku has 46 million.
It is those device providers — not HBO Max, Disney+, or Netflix — who are actually in consumers’ living rooms. And that’s an important thing to recognize in an era when media companies from Disney to WarnerMedia are reorganizing under streaming supremacy, a future where direct-to-consumer relationships are growing more important than theatrical releases.
While it’s unclear just how many new users the Amazon deal will net for HBO Max, one thing is for certain: Accessing HBO Max just got a hell of a lot easier for millions of people. And ease of access is key when consumers have come to expect thousands of shows and movies at the click of a button. Without easy access, viewers would more easily opt out of subscribing to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, or any number of other services vying for their attention. Bad news for HBO Max’s standing in the streaming wars.
In an interview with IndieWire earlier this fall, Roku’s content chief Tedd Cittadine detailed his view that the streaming wars will be won through close relationships between steaming services and device providers. At the time, he indirectly signaled Roku’s hard stance in negotiations with WarnerMedia.
“There are services that have legacy mindsets, where they want to take all the value for themselves, or not lean into platforms as a partnership,” Cittadine said. “I think the results of the sort of services that have come to market with that mentality — I won’t name any specifics, but you might be able to identify who those may be — I think the results speak for themselves. They don’t have that sort of success that others do.”
A Roku representative did not respond to a request for comment about the status of the company’s negotiations with WarnerMedia. But signs are hopeful that they will soon come to an agreement.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which also launched earlier this year, was long unavailable on Roku or Amazon devices until September, when Roku and NBCUniversal struck a deal to bring the service to Roku devices. It still, however, remains unavailable on Amazon devices.
With the pandemic waging on, streaming and VOD will continue to play an important part of all studios’ strategies for the foreseeable future. Disney said it plans to release more movies on PVOD, while Bloomberg reports that Warner Bros. is weighing an early HBO Max debut for Wonder Woman 1984.
That increased importance means it’s in the best interest of all sides — Roku, WarnerMedia, NBCUniveral, and Amazon — to strike deals soon.