Roku scored a huge coup with the release of the HBO Go app on its streaming media box Thursday. But not everyone who subscribes to the premium cable network will have access to it. In fact, the two biggest pay TV operators in the U.S. — Comcast and DirecTV — have decided not to support the Roku app.
The HBO Go app just went live for users to download from the Roku Channel Store, and as pointed out by BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield, it provides a better experience than most cable VOD offerings for accessing HBO content. However, the service is only available to subscribers of participating TV providers, a list that doesn’t include Comcast or DirecTV.
With more than 40 million subscribers between them, those operators represent a huge portion of the overall pay TV market in the U.S., but they’re not the only operators whose subscribers can’t access HBO Go on Roku. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision still haven’t reached deals with the network to roll out HBO Go access on any of its platforms, whether it be PC, mobile or connected TV platforms. Altogether, that means that more than half of all pay TV subs won’t be able to use the Roku HBO Go app, even if they wanted to.
HBO Go has proven incredibly popular since it came out about a year and a half ago. The HBO Go iPad app, by itself, has been downloaded more than 5 million times — and has only been available since May. With that in mind, HBO wants to become ubiquitous on as many devices as possible.
When asked about the lack of support by Comcast or DirecTV, an HBO spokesperson emailed the following statement: “HBO GO has been a huge success with HBO subscribers. It therefore makes good business sense that affiliates will want to satisfy their subscribers’ desire to access this valuable product enhancement on all platforms.”
The decision not to support streaming on the Roku is also a little surprising because both Comcast and DirecTV have both made huge strides in opening up to new digital platforms. Comcast, for instance, unveiled its own iPad app, which includes on-demand video content from HBO and other providers — and is launching its own connected TV apps on Samsung TVs and the Xbox 360. Meanwhile, DirecTV is betting big on its Nomad set-top box for streaming pre-recorded DVR programs on laptops and connected devices. Both also support HBO Go streaming on web browsers and mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.
Furthermore, there’s no contractual reason Comcast or DirecTV users can’t access the Roku app. A person with knowledge of the situation told us there are no amendments needed for those companies to authenticate with one device or another, and the decision to support different devices — or not — is up to the operator.
Roku expects to have sold 3 million streaming boxes by year-end, and CEO Anthony Wood told us last fall that about 12 percent of Roku users go on to cut the cord or cancel their pay TV subscriptions. All of which suggests that the number of HBO Go users with Roku boxes is probably pretty small, in comparison to the 28 million subscriber the network has in the U.S.
But non-support for one device that streams to the TV calls into question support for other connected TV apps that HBO and other networks have in the works. HBO Go will be one of the featured applications as part of Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Live update, and expects to build apps for other connected TV platforms next year.