Roku, Comcast battle over Peacock could see NBC apps removed from the platform

NBC fans are in the crossfire as Peacock remains absent on Roku.

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Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
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Roku may be about to lose NBC apps in its dispute with Comcast over the Peacock streaming service. 

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The battle between Roku and Comcast over Peacock is expanding, with the telecom and media giant now asking Roku to pull NBC apps from its streaming TVs and devices.

On Friday, Comcast asked Roku to remove NBC TV Everywhere apps from its platform. According to Variety, 46 apps could be affected, including the main NBC app. Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is the parent to a host of channels, including NBC, USA Network and Telemundo, in addition to the Peacock streaming service. 

At issue are negotiations for Peacock, Comcast's streaming service that launched nationally in July. Peacock is available on a host of devices but remains absent on Roku and Amazon's Fire TV, the two most popular streaming platforms in the US. 

"We recently learned that Comcast plans to revoke consumers' access to NBC TV Everywhere channels on the Roku platform by making Roku delete these channels on/or as early as September 18, 2020," a Roku spokesman said in a statement. "These consumers, a number of whom are Comcast customers, have paid to access these channels via their cable TV subscriptions and now cannot view this content on Roku, their platform of choice.

"Comcast is removing the channels in order to try to force Roku to distribute its new Peacock service on unreasonable terms. While the NBC TV Everywhere apps represent an insignificant amount of streaming hours and revenue on our platform, we believe they are important to those consumers who use them, especially when so many Americans are at home."

In a statement, NBCUniversal pushed back and called Roku's demands "unreasonable." 

"We are disappointed Roku is removing its users' free access to NBCUniversal programming - 11 network apps, 12 NBC Owned Station apps, 23 Telemundo Owned Station apps - and continues to block access to the only free premium streaming service available in the market, Peacock," the company said. "Roku's unreasonable demands ultimately hurt both their consumers and their consumer equipment partners to whom they've promised access to all apps in the marketplace."

NBCUniversal had handshake deals in place with Roku for both TV Everywhere apps and for Peacock before the streaming platform changed its terms, according to a person familiar with NBCUniversal's thinking. The person says that a Peacock app for Roku is already built and ready to launch if a deal is reached.

Watch this: Peacock pricing, bundles and shows: The lowdown on NBC's streaming service

When asked for comment, Roku told CNET that no agreement between the two sides was ever reached with one of the key issues being the split of advertising in Peacock and other NBCUniversal apps. 

"While free to consumers, Comcast wants to build a large and financially significant ad-supported service on the Roku platform and keep all of the ad economics for themselves," the company said in a statement. "At no point have Comcast and Roku reached an agreement because they continue to offer no certainty that Roku will have the opportunity to earn any material ad economics."
"Sharing in partner success and the upside we create is how we fund all the great things Roku gives consumers – TV streaming innovation, exceptionally low-cost streaming products and a vast selection of free content – that's why this is important," the streaming platform continued. "We want to ensure that Roku customers get the very best streaming experience they deserve. We are committed finding a win-win deal and are confident we can help Comcast make the transition to streaming by making Peacock a success."

Roku sent out an email to customers letting them know of the impending removal of apps, though as of 11:45 a.m. PT on Friday the Roku website, as well as Roku devices we checked, still showed NBC's main app. Once the apps are removed from the Roku store they will also be removed from Roku devices on which they're already installed. 

NBC content will still be viewable in other apps on Roku, including the Hulu app, live TV apps such as YouTube TV and Fubo TV, as well as apps from cable companies such as Spectrum.