Football fans hoping to stream Sunday’s Super Bowl game using the Fox Now or Fox Sports apps through their Roku connected TV devices may be out of luck if an ongoing dispute between the two companies continues.
Roku, which as of last September had more than 32 million active accounts, may not offer its users access to the Fox or Fox Sports app after Friday, a company spokesperson confirmed Thursday night. Such a move would prevent Roku customers from streaming the Super Bowl through either Fox app.
“Roku’s distribution agreement with Fox Corp is set to expire on Jan. 31,” a Roku spokesperson said in a statement to Adweek. “We offered Fox an extension so that Roku can continue to bring a large and valuable audience to Fox. If an agreement is not reached, we will be forced to remove Fox channels from the Roku platform.”
According to Roku, a new agreement between Fox and Roku will need to be reached before Sunday for the app to be reinstated on the devices.
But in a separate statement Thursday night, a Fox Corp spokesperson disputed Roku’s account, saying the company never asked Roku to remove its apps from the platform. The move to pull Fox’s apps from Roku over the weekend, the company alleged, is an attempt to apply leverage in an ongoing negotiation with the broadcaster.
“Roku’s threat to delete Fox apps from its customers’ devices is a naked effort to use its customers as pawns,” the Fox spokesperson said. “To be clear, Fox has not asked Roku to remove our apps, and we would prefer Roku continue to make them available without interruption.
“Roku’s tactics are a poorly timed negotiating ploy, fabricating a crisis with no thought for the alarm it generated among its own customers. … Only Roku can pull apps from its customers’ devices, and we would urge them to stop the intimidation tactics and reconsider the merits of irritating their best customers in pursuit of Roku’s own interests.”
Roku and Fox’s faceoff went public Thursday night when Roku’s Twitter account confirmed that Fox’s apps had been removed from the Roku Channel Store ahead of the distribution contract’s expiration on Friday, Jan. 31.
UPDATE: Fox tweeted about the dispute a few hours later, telling Roku to “stop threatening your own customers and leave the @FOXTV apps alone.”
Even if the dispute is not resolved by Sunday, there are several other options for Roku users to watch or stream the Super Bowl.
A Roku spokesperson said discussions with Fox to reinstate the availability of the app on Roku devices are ongoing, but in the meantime the company is encouraging its customers to access the Super Bowl through other providers, including via free trials on virtual MVPD services like Fubo, Sling TV, Hulu Live and YouTube TV, all of which can be accessed via Roku.
The National Football League, meanwhile, is directing fans to stream the game through the NFL app, Yahoo Sports or the mobile properties of the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, who will face off during Sunday’s match.
While carriage disputes are a regular occurrence in the linear television business, the escalating faceoff between Fox and Roku before the Super Bowl highlights an increasingly common complication in an industry where television carriage rights are spread over even more television providers, MVPDs and connected television services. That growing number of distributors increases the possibility of carriage disputes, disagreements and drops in programming availability.
For television providers of all stripes, the Super Bowl remains a paramount offering. As traditional linear viewing continues to slide, the Super Bowl continues to be a reliable audience draw on live television: In 2019, the broadcast drew 112.7 million viewers across all platforms, a lower-than-usual but still robust figure as audiences continue to fracture. Brands looking for big audiences are spending big on advertisements in the game this year.
For the upcoming broadcast, Fox Sports condensed its ad breaks for the broadcast, creating more premium inventory that led to both a late November sellout and record-breaking prices of up to $5.6 million for a 30-second spot in the game. After selling all 77 in-game spots, Fox last week created an extra ad pod to squeeze five more ads into the broadcast.
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.