Why Won’t Comcast Permit HBO GO on Roku?

Dave Zatz —  November 8, 2011 — 20 Comments

roku-hbogo-channel-store

A day or so before HBO GO was released to Roku devices I was tipped off that DirecTV and Comcast wouldn’t offer this service. At the time, I didn’t recognize the implication… but it’s become all too clear. Comcast and DirecTV are willfully preventing access to HBO GO on Roku devices, even though that very same content is offered to their subscribers via mobile devices and web browser.

In corresponding with Roku and HBO, I’m pretty sure this is neither a technical issue nor a licensing issue. So it’s not clear to me why Comcast or DirecTV would deny Roku owners access? My initial thought was that it boils down to fear of an over-the-top future… yet Comcast is bringing Xfinity to the Xbox and, generally speaking, HBO has done right by their partners and only offers HBO GO to HBO cable/satellite subscribers. I asked Comcast to help me understand, but their prepared non-response doesn’t shed any light on the situation.

Every day we’re working to make XfinityTV programming available to our customers in more ways including the Xbox, connected TVs, on websites like XfinityTV and HBOGo, on tablets and other devices.  Today, all HBO content is available on XfinityTV.com and through the XfinityTV app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.  We will continue to work with our partners to deliver even more choices to our customers in more places.

For now the mystery remains unsolved, with the impotent HBO and Roku encouraging customers to contact their respective providers if they’re not being served. And this marks another day that I’m pleased to be a Verizon FiOS TV customer.

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20 responses to Why Won’t Comcast Permit HBO GO on Roku?

  1. This is my response from DirecTV.

    We are writing in response to the recent correspondence we received. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

    Although we don’t currently allow HBO streaming on Roku, we forwarded your request to DIRECTV Management for review. Be assured your feedback is important to us and we often make changes based on our viewer’s comments.

    Please note, we currently offer the HBO Go service on smartphones, tablets and PCs and will continue to evaluate ways to enhance the services we offer.

  2. It’s not really much of a mystery. Comcast sells tons of PPV content through xfinity. The “free” VOD content is just there to get customers to use the product in the first place. It’s not consumer-friendly, but I mean, c’mon. Comcast.

    DirectTV no doubt has a similar agenda.

  3. Could be… especially when you consider their Xbox initiative seems to be PPV/VOD-only (as opposed to Verizon, who will offer live TV). Which would be short sighted. These guys should be doing everything in their power to make customers happy.

  4. They’re trying to enhance shareholder value. When you have a monopoly, you don’t need to worry about customer satisfaction.

    They’re leveraging one monopoly (their ISP business) to achieve an advantage in a related market (their media business). That’s probably illegal.

  5. I was thinking that they might not want to piss off the people who pay $25/month to get HBO via Comcast when they realize how much more content they get on HBO GO – more movies, more back episodes of series, etc.

    There’s also the very real possibility that HBO may begin selling Roku-only(or internet only) HBO GO subscriptions, which would not be a good thing for Comcast

    I was on a panel today at Digiday Video with someone from HBO and asked her point-blank about the HBO GO subscriptions. Her reply was “no comment” – read into that what you will. I know I did J

  6. nt hing that I have seen coe up only once during different ROKU-HBO GO discussions, but I feel is a real concern for these guys, is the ability to absue the ROKU -HBO GO offering. Face it, all you need is a friend or relative with HBO and the “unscrupulous” could be watching HBO GO in a flash. And remember, the one thing that these companies know is once you let Pandora out of the box, it is tough to put it back in. Something to think about. Maybe not a soleissue for COMCAST or DIREC TV, but another factor on their “Here is why we shouldn’t do ths” List

  7. Hey Dave, what makes you say this is willful. If you wade through the comments in the Comcast forums there are people claiming that this is just a time issue and the support is “coming soon”. Personally I think it COULD be that this is simply some support person saying what is required to make somebody go away, and thus since it can’t be tested you can’t rely on it. But it sounds like you think this is a conscious choice on Comcast’s part and won’t be changing any time soon.

    And, since nobody else has beaten this stick yet–I’d like to point out how successful streaming has been in reducing piracy. Hulu and Netflix and ABC’s iPad app and CBS.com and so forth. Well, it doesn’t have to stay that way. I’ll say it straight–anything that I could watch on HBO Go I can download for free with little effort. And for less than I spend on my HBO subscription I can pay for a nice VPN provider who doesn’t keep any logs.

    Comcast can either make their customers happy or fight them for every dollar. Me, I’ll be voting with my pocketbook and cancelling HBO if they don’t fix this. $20/month is too much to charge me if they’re going to screw me over like this.

  8. Glenn, I’ve heard back from all three companies and the ball is clearly in Comcast’s court. Based on what was said, how it was said, and what wasn’t said, I’m inferring Comcast has made a choice to not offer it. However, I’m hoping we collectively make enough noise to change their position.

  9. “They’re trying to enhance shareholder value. When you have a monopoly, you don’t need to worry about customer satisfaction. They’re leveraging one monopoly (their ISP business) to achieve an advantage in a related market (their media business).”

    Exactamundo.

    Again, it was Comcast who tried to prevent Netflix from using their customers’ bandwidth to reach their Comcast customers.

    Comcast doesn’t like lean-back OTT that isn’t under their control, or doesn’t pay them off in some way, since they don’t see how it benefits their bottom line. And given that they have most of their customers in a monopoly headlock, it’s hard to argue with their logic.

    Unless/until the Feds step in, of course. (And Comcast’s purchase of NBC should be seen as a means of gaining leverage over Fed actions. It’s nice to have the kind of political megaphone a “news” organization provides. See the way Fox tried to use “news” to pave the way for BSkyB in the UK, for example.)

  10. This is flat-out ridiculous. You have to be a pay-TV subscriber in order to get HBO. If HBO then wants to make its full back catalog available for no extra cost, the pay-TV providers shouldn’t stand in the way. (On Roku or anywhere else) Or if they are going to stand in the way, they should at least get their own comparable offering out damn quickly. Viewers don’t care if they get the content through an HBO app or an Xfinity one. But they should get what they pay for.

  11. “This is flat-out ridiculous.”

    Welcome to the wonderful world of under-regulated monopolies in an oligarchic political system…

  12. This is outrageous. Isn’t this the exact case-study for net-neutrality? Is there a provision in Comcast’s agreement with subscribers that allow them to block specific services? I’m surprised this isn’t covered more widely?

  13. Interesting question Andy. I think net neutrality is normally seen as saying that Comcast can’t dictate what you get to look at on your computer, and it certainly DOES include video services streaming over IP. They don’t get to block them or charge you extra fees to get access to them or whatever (btw: the Senate just defeated an attempt to gut the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which will now just have to be decided by the courts).

    Since not everybody can use this service, only paying HBO customers, is this covered? Since Comcast has to authorize the fact that the customer is currently paying for HBO, does that give them an out? Is it legal for them to say yes I’m a customer when HBO Go on the web asks but no I’m not when a Roku does?

    Also, since HBO opened this can of worms by authorizing the Roku separately (I’m assuming that’s so, but it seems reasonable) is it really their fault? Do we know if HBO charges Comcast a little more money to allow a customer to do this? If that is the case, I assume that this isn’t covered by Net Neutrality at all.

    Huh.

  14. Yeah, that’s why I called HBO impotent. It’s their product, they should dictate the terms. It’s either on or off. BUT Comcast is probably their biggest customer… and they probably made concessions or offered it as an option.

  15. It looks like there’s a lot of speculation as to why Comcast does not allow HBO streaming on Roku but the bottom line is that it’s not in their customers’ best interest. Comcast knows their customers want this and are not giving it to them without disclosing the reason why. I subscribe to and work for DISH and I know they always offer the most they can to their customers. I’m not sure why DirecTV and Comcast are unable to provide this to customers but since so many other companies are onboard, it seems to be a fair request.

  16. “Yeah, that’s why I called HBO impotent. It’s their product, they should dictate the terms.”

    But, of course, you don’t buy HBO from Time-Warner. You buy HBO from your MSO, so your MSO gets to dictate the terms.

    —–

    Isn’t it time we stopped dancing around the real scandal here?

    Comcast not offering HBO Go on Roku is bad, but HBO Go not offering John from Cincinnati at all is the scandal of the century.

    (And for all the good things HBO original programming has done over the last 15 years, their refusal to ever let David Milch finish a series is inexcusable. I bet they’ll cancel Luck too just when it starts to hit its stride…)

  17. Are you frustrated with Comcast and their lack of response to your request to add support for HBO Go on Roku devices? Join our campaign and raise your voice!

    http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/campaign-0-3813

  18. Comcast I understand, but DirecTV has no real good mechanism for VOD. Plus, it’s using other people’s bandwidth, as they’re not an ISP!

  19. I dont buy into any of the above reasoning. True, Xfinity is denying Roku users the ability to use HBOGo, however Xfinity is Allowing AppleTV users to use HBOGo… I know, because I am using Apple TV

  20. Comcast is run by money hungry jerks! If they allowed HBO Go, their StreamPix service would lose lots of subscriptions. I passionately HATE Comcast and would love to ditch them, but they are my only choice at the moment. I hate DirecTV almost as much as I do Comcast! I wish that AT&T U-Verse was an option for me, but it is not available in my city.

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