February 3, 2020

Streaming Wars: Roku makes Fox Corp dance in a last-minute deal

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Credit: Mike Mozart, Flickr

A few days before the Super Bowl, Roku fired out a warning to their platform users: Fox channels would be pulled. The very next day, despite an angry statement from Fox Corp, a deal was in place. Roku said jump, Fox Corp said how high. It is that simple.

Roku timed the warning to perfection, leveraging its considerable 32.8 million U.S. monthly streamers. There was no doubt a lot of pressure on Fox Corp to deliver something fast, and they did.

One thing is certain: this was a power-play that Roku came out on top of.

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Distribution disagreement

The language covering this story has been vastly different across news outlets. Most think that Roku would be the one to suffer if this deal wasn’t made. However, Roku was already promoting other services on its platform offering the Super Bowl, including free trials to Sling TV, Hulu Live, and YouTube TV.

Roku said in a statement:

Roku’s distribution agreement with FOX Corp is set to expire on Jan. 31. We offered FOX an extension so that Roku can continue to bring a large and valuable audience to FOX. If an agreement is not reached, we will be forced to remove FOX channels from the Roku platform.

From Roku to CordCuttersNews.com

Fox replied:

Roku’s threat to delete FOX apps from its customers’ devices is a naked effort to use its customers as pawns.  To be clear, FOX has not asked Roku to remove our apps, and we would prefer Roku continue to make them available without interruption.  Roku’s tactics are a poorly timed negotiating ploy, fabricating a crisis with no thought for the alarm it generated among its own customers. Even if Roku unilaterally decides to remove FOX apps, savvy Roku customers know Super Bowl LIV on FOX will be ubiquitously available through streaming providers, FOX apps on the biggest streaming platforms and our website.  Only Roku can pull apps from its customers’ devices, and we would urge them to stop the intimidation tactics and reconsider the merits of irritating their best customers in pursuit of Roku’s own interests.

Fox Corporation Spokesperson to CordCutterNews.com

The language in each statement is telling. Roku is to the point, while Fox is defensive and angry. It highlights which company was in the driver’s seat.

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Reshuffling platform power

In the past, Fox Corp would have simply crushed Roku, but now, the power is with the platform. This wasn’t a gentle negotiation, but a well-timed move by a powerful company flexing their muscles. It’s a huge swing, because historically, Fox Corp always seemed to be the one pulling strings and controlling the media.

This news story shows how platforms are taking control of everything online. You only have to look at how Apple, Google, and Facebook (platforms) now own the news cycle. Majors of the past are the ones having to adapt to the new power players, and it’s shuffling who rules the digital playground.

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