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HBO Max exec on Roku deal: 'We'll get it done'

But movies like Wonder Woman 1984, Dune and Matrix 4 going straight to streaming on HBO Max don't change the dynamics of the Roku talks, the service's top product executive says.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
Roku Streaming Stick Plus

Roku makes some of the most popular streaming devices in the US, but talks with HBO Max to bring the service's app to Roku have failed to reach a deal for months. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Max app has been missing from Roku's popular devices since the streaming service's very beginning. But in spite of months without a deal, HBO Max's top product exec is confident that the two sides will find a way to bring HBO Max to your Roku gadgets. 

"We'll get it done," Andy Forssell, executive vice president and general manager of WarnerMedia's direct-to-consumer products, said in an interview Thursday. 

He added that he "can't prognosticate," nor can the company rush a deal. "But they're a good partner, as I said, and I'm sure we'll continue to be in business with them," he said. Even with his caveats, the statement that Max will get a deal done with Roku is the most public commitment to bridging the difference yet. 

HBO Max, part of AT&T's WarnerMedia, launched in late May as another splashy new service in the so-called streaming wars, a period over the last year when a number of media and tech giants rolled out their big-budget rivals to the likes of Netflix. At the same time, streaming has grown more popular than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, amplifying the long trend of people watching more of their video online. 

But now the most powerful TV app distributors and deep-pocketed media companies have drawn a battle line for control of the data and money generated by your streaming activity. That led to standoffs pitting device makers like Roku and Amazon against services like HBO Max, as they all try to entrench positions of power for the next era of TV. That's manifested in "blackouts" of apps on some of the most popular streaming platforms. 

Roku is the last major streaming device platform lacking support for HBO's new app,

Forssell spoke to CNET after HBO Max announced that all of Warner Bros. new movies -- starting with Wonder Woman 1984 on Dec. 25 and including Matrix 4 and Dune -- will debut on HBO Max at no added cost the same day they're available in theaters. The news marks a seismic shift in how movies are released and dramatically changes HBO Max's proposition to customers

Nonetheless, it doesn't meaningfully change the dynamics in Max's talks with Roku, Forssell said.

Roku has "been a good partner for years; they'll be a good partner for years to come," Forssell said late Thursday. "We'll figure something out. I have nothing to say about the timeline, and I don't think today's announcement changes anything dramatically ... but we already both had really strong imperatives to find a way to work together. So we have to go do that, and we'll get it done." 

Roku declined to comment Thursday night on the HBO Max announcement about Warner Bros. movies. 

Forssell's comments generally echo sentiments Thursday by Jason Kilar, the CEO of the entire WarnerMedia unit. Kilar said in an interview with Vox's Recode that HBO Max is talking with Roku on a daily basis: It's "very clearly in the interest of Roku and WarnerMedia to find common ground here. It benefits both companies -- and, even more importantly, fans want it. Usually when you have those dynamics at play, things get figured out," Kilar said. 

Both HBO Max and NBCUniversal's new streaming service, Peacock, launched without apps on Roku's or Amazon's Fire TV devices, and the device makers and streaming services are finally stitching together patchwork support. HBO Max now has a deal with Amazon's Fire line of devices -- but HBO Max's app is still missing from Roku. Peacock and Roku reached a deal in September to support Peacock app on that platform, but that left Amazon's Fire TV as the only major platform without Peacock.