Pressure to expand HBO Max distribution ahead of film release strategy likely pushed Roku deal over finish line

  • Roku and WarnerMedia have reached an agreement to distribute HBO Max on Roku platforms after months of negotiations. 
  • The pressure on WarnerMedia to expand HBO Max distribution ahead of its new film release strategy likely pushed the deal over the finish line. 
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Roku and WarnerMedia have reached an agreement to distribute HBO Max on Roku platforms after months of negotiations. As part of the deal, the Roku Channel Store will no longer sell subscriptions to HBO—a similar arrangement that WarnerMedia and Amazon made in late November. In exchange, Roku will receive a cut of the advertising inventory available in the upcoming ad-supported version of HBO Max, according to sources at Bloomberg. The Roku deal follows shortly after two other HBO Max distribution announcements on Comcast's Xfinity services and the PlayStation 5.

The pressure on WarnerMedia to expand HBO Max distribution ahead of its new film release strategy likely pushed the deal over the finish line. The media company caused a stir when it announced in early December that its entire 2021 film slate would debut on HBO Max in the US simultaneously with theatrical releases. The need to ensure that this bold strategy would not be impeded by distribution tie-ups likely made finalizing negotiations with Roku and Amazon a top priority. This deal was announced fewer than 10 days before the release of "Wonder Woman 1984" on December 25—the first major test under this new strategy.

Furthermore, HBO Max gains access to the last major holdout among connected TV devices and potentially a substantial boost to its subscriber count. In the seven months since its launch, HBO Max has acquired 12.6 million activated subscribers, a far cry from Disney+'s 86.8 million subscriber count in its first year. But with this deal, HBO Max will now be available to Roku's massive growing audience, which by our estimates will grow 26.4% this year to 100.2 million US users. And early data about WarnerMedia's distribution deal with Amazon Fire TVs suggests a sizable portion of Roku's audience may sign up for HBO Max: In the two weeks following HBO Max's Amazon deal, an estimated 38% of net new sign-ups for the service came through Amazon's ecosystem, according to data from streaming research company Antenna.

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