Roku and Fox Resolve Distribution Standoff in Time For Super Bowl

Companies reached new agreement shortly before previous deal expired

Roku and Fox's new deal will allow Roku users to stream the Super Bowl using Fox's apps on the platform.
Jason Lynch for Adweek

Crisis averted: Roku and Fox have reached an agreement that will allow Roku to distribute Fox programming on its connected TV devices—meaning that users will be able to stream the Super Bowl, the companies said late Friday.

“We are delighted that we reached an agreement with Fox to distribute Fox channels on the Roku platform,” a Roku spokesperson said Friday night. “Roku customers can stream the Super Bowl through Fox Now, Fox Sports and NFL, in addition to other ways.” Added a Fox Corp. spokesperson, “We are pleased to have reached a successful agreement with Roku. Fox’s leading suite of apps will continue to be available on the Roku platform.”

The decision comes about 24 hours after Roku said on Thursday night that Fox’s suite of apps, including Fox, Fox Sports and Fox Nation, would no longer be available through Roku devices on Jan. 31. The issue, Roku said then, was due to an expiring distribution agreement that the companies hadn’t yet renewed.

“We have tried for months to get Fox to sign an agreement, and we offered Fox an extension, but they declined,” Roku said in a Friday afternoon blog post about the then-unresolved dispute. “If an agreement is not reached, we will be forced to remove Fox channels from the Roku platform because we can’t distribute content without an agreement.”

Fox had disputed Roku’s characterization of the situation and said it wanted its apps to remain on the platform. “Roku’s threat to delete Fox apps from its customers’ devices is a naked effort to use its customers as pawns,” a Fox spokesperson said late Thursday. “To be clear, Fox has not asked Roku to remove our apps, and we would prefer Roku continues to make them available without interruption.”

Roku in September had about 32 million active accounts across its suite of connected television products. It’s unclear exactly how many users of the suite of Fox apps would have been affected on Sunday during the game’s broadcast had the agreement not been reached.

After the dispute was made public, Fox spent Friday playing offense, enlisting high-profile Fox News Channel personalities, including Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro to ask fans to apply pressure on Roku. (That strategy of asking top-tier talent to apply pressure isn’t entirely unusual during carriage and retransmission disputes between pay TV distributors and broadcasters, which happen somewhat regularly.)

Fox had kept up the public pressure on Roku all day and into the evening, sending its final tweet less than two hours before the agreement was reached.

While the dispute was far from the first ugly PR fight over distribution agreements, the public disagreement highlighted the increased complexities of distribution deals represented by the advent of new players in the pay TV space, whether they’re streaming media devices, connected TVs or MVPD services.

The dispute between Roku and Fox intensified right before Super Bowl LIV, which has been a lucrative broadcast for Fox. The broadcaster was selling 30-second ad spots for as much as $5.6 million, Adweek previously reported, and this week the broadcaster created a new ad pod to fit five more advertisements into the broadcast.

The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will face off Sunday night, beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. In addition to Roku devices, there are plenty of other ways to tune into the Big Game.

For all the latest Super Bowl advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2020 Ad Tracker. And join us on the evening of Feb. 2 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials anywhere.

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