The week after Christmas is a really bad time to be changing things up. Folks have their new devices freshly unwrapped and set up, and they're ready to start using all that holiday loot. And a lot of those devices are from Roku.
And so you'd be a little forgiven if you saw headlines this week decrying the death of AT&T TV Now — that's the former DirecTV Now — on the Roku platform. Here's what's up:
The support page that lists the devices on which you can watch AT&T TV Now (and the not-at-all-confusing AT&T TV app) was changed, recently, to note the following:
Heads up: Starting January 1, 2020, you won't be able to add the AT&T TV channel to your Roku device. Already have AT&T TV on your Roku device? You can keep using it as long as you don't delete the app. We're actively working on a new agreement with Roku and hope to resolve this soon.
That seems pretty definitive, yet also cryptic. They're "actively working on a new agreement with Roku"? While it's certainly not uncommon for major players like AT&T to get special treatment, Roku's developer distribution agreement is pretty easy to find, and theoretically is the same for everyone. So even if there's some sort of disagreement over the agreement (and my money would be on something that's revenue-generating, because it almost always comes down to that), that's not even the important part right now.
Or it could be something more — remember that Roku remote controls have one-touch buttons for various services. And of course those services have to pay for that kind of placement. (We've unofficially heard the number starts at seven figures.) So it could be something from that end. Or possibly it could be that Roku charges for placement in the "Cable Alternative" section of the Roku Channel Store.
AT&T got back to us with a statement from their side. It reads as follows:
"We're disappointed to see Roku put our customers in the middle of contract negotiations. We are on the side of customer choice and value and want to keep our streaming and video apps within Roku."
Most important is what's changed. And at first that was (and in some respects is) ... nothing. So long as you don't, for some reason, uninstall the AT&T TV channel on your Roku device, you're just fine. It's not going anywhere.
And for most of Jan. 1, I was able to install the AT&T TV channel (which also is the umbrella for AT&T TV Now) on a 2019 Roku TV (the TCL 6-Series, to be specific), and the latest 2019 Roku Ultra player. That's changed on Jan. 2. The channel is now missing from Roku, just like AT&T promised would happen the day before. (Chances are someone forgot Jan. 1 is a holiday for most folks.)
The question, now, is whether this is a temporary thing, as AT&T alludes, or if it's something larger in the scheme of AT&T's streaming strategy. You'll recall that that the former DirecTV Now and AT&T TV Now still aren't available on Android TV, which remains a pretty weird strategy for a service that's been hemmoraging customers for months.
We'll update again if Roku returns with its side of the story.
Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET Jan. 2: Added the statement from AT&T.
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