Q. I don’t understand why HBO Max isn’t on Roku and Fire TV. They are the only streaming devices I have and everyone I talk to has one or both of those. So why isn’t HBO Max on them like everything else like Netflix and Hulu? Doesn’t Roku and Fire TV know that people might get another device that has it if they don’t add it? — Sam, Chesapeake, Virginia.
Sam, you’re right. HBO Max, a $15-a-month streaming service, launched on May 27 and it still isn’t available on the nation’s two leading streaming devices as of this morning. And there’s a good chance that Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV won’t add it for weeks, or maybe even months.
Because they can. Let me explain.
Amazon, which features a Channels store on its web site, has been aggressive in seeking advertising revenue and other perks from new streamers looking for carriage. Roku has a similar business called The Roku Channel which offers a mix of streaming services and marketing ties on its devices and TVs.
They want to put the HBO Max app in these ‘walled gardens’ rather than in the regular channel stores. This would give both companies greater control, and additional revenue opportunities.
AT&T, which owns HBO Max, is obviously reluctant to play along. The company is investing heavily in the new streaming service, and it can’t afford to slice its profit line any thinner.
The telco is holding out, hoping for both device owners to ultimately succumb to customer pressure.
But this is where I think AT&T is miscalculating.
I don’t believe the demand for HBO Max is that strong. After all, both Roku and Fire TV have the HBO app and many consumers seem unaware that there’s a difference between HBO and HBO Max. (HBO Max offers the regular HBO lineup in addition to non-HBO fare such as Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who and Turner Classic Movies.)
They might not even know that they are not getting HBO Max. They see the HBO logo on the app and think that must be it. Why pressure Roku and Amazon to add HBO Max when they may not realize that they don’t have it, or need it. They have HBO and that’s good enough for them. Or so they think.
AT&T has been its own worst enemy here because it has so many HBO apps with similar sounding names. (HBO Now. HBO Go. HBO Max.) This has just added to the confusion among consumers.
(AT&T is trying to clean up the mess by eliminating HBO Go and changing HBO Now to just HBO on July 31. But damage has already been done.)
Of course, AT&T could increase its leverage by launching a few must-see original shows on HBO Max that would generate more demand among consumers. But that hasn’t happened yet. HBO Max’s original lineup (shows exclusive to HBO Max) is now tepid at best.
Until AT&T more effectively distinguishes HBO Max from just old HBO, Roku and Amazon can afford to sit back and wait. And I think they will.
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— Phillip Swann