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Charter’s Spectrum TV app blackout on Roku reaches 3-month mark

A contract impasse continues to keep Charter Communications pay TV subscribers from downloading the Spectrum TV app on Roku. The app is often used for secondary TVs within homes, allowing cable customers to deploy an inexpensive off-the-shelf OTT device in lieu of leasing additional Charter set-top equipment. The app has been unavailable for download within the Roku Channel Store since mid-December.

Those who have already downloaded then Spectrum TV app have been able to continue using Spectrum TV service on Roku. But based on this Reddit posting, there’s at least one anecdotal indication that a lack of updates is taking its toll.

“Recently, I got rid of my cable boxes and went to Roku Spectrum apps on my TVs,” the poster wrote. “… So, in the living room, I have a 4K Ultra LT Roku. On most of the channels in the Spectrum app, I have been having this glitchy, freeze frame thing happening a couple of seconds after changing to the channel. After changing many settings in my Roku, TV and surround sound stereo switching amp, I finally found the problem in the Roku/settings/advanced system settings/advanced display settings… I had to turn the auto-adjust display refresh rate to [Off].”

Notably, the Spectrum TV app isn’t available for Amazon Fire TV or Google TV/Android TV. Beyond iOS and Android mobile devices, however, it is supported by Apple TV, Samsung TV Plus and Xbox game consoles.

Also perhaps notable: There’s no line item on Charter’s balance sheet for leased set-tops, but the No. 2 U.S. cable operator’s revenue per residential customer slipped 1.7% in the fourth quarter to $111.85

While many of the typical end-of-year “Blackout Season”-related contract disputes between content companies and pay TV operators that emerged in December have been settled, there’s a somewhat novel iteration of this age-old distribution conflict that has quietly dragged on, and it doesn’t seem to have any end date.

Since mid-December, Roku users have been unable to download Charter Communications’ Spectrum TV app on their devices.

The removal of the app, which lets Spectrum TV users bypass their proprietary Charter “World Box” set-top and watch their pay TV service on their OTT device, was precipitated by a contract renewal impasse, both sides conceded.

A Roku rep said there’s no “new news” to share, responding to Next TV’s inquiry Wednesday.

Roku continues to stress that users who have already downloaded the app prior to its removal from their Channel Store can still use it.

A Charter rep also said there was no new information to report.

A message on the landing page for Spectrum TV’s Roku app still reads, “Despite our best efforts to reach an agreement, Roku has not accepted Spectrum’s offer to continue our contract that allowed customers to access the Spectrum TV app on Roku devices.”

A Not So Trivial Dispute?
Roku has famously been involved in a series of high-profile app support holdups recently—it didn’t support Comcast’s Peacock or AT&T’s HBO Max for months after those streaming services launched last year.

Those delays were caused by complex negotiations that involved such factors as ad revenue sharing, and how those services were accessed by consumers—meaning, whether Roku users tapped into, say, HBO Max directly, or through disaggregation via Roku Channels.

In the case of the Spectrum TV app, it’s unclear as to what specifically the two sides are haggling about. Notably, a source with insight into the negotiations said the impasse has nothing to do with Charter’s cozier relationship with Apple. Notably, two years ago, Charter promoted its Spectrum TV service with Apple TV 4K giveaways, while also launching the Spectrum TV app on the platform.

Roku has shown some precedent for this kind of impasse. Notably, the AT&T TV app was absent from Roku’s Channel Store from Jan. 1 last year through mid-May. That was around the time when AT&T launched its IP-delivered linear pay TV service, AT&T TV. It was also around the time that the telecom’s WarnerMedia division put SVOD service HBO Max on the launch pad.

It’s unclear as to how much pressure Charter is under to have its app restored to the No. 1 connected TV device platform. Last week, Charter reported that it finished 2020 by adding 56,000 pay TV subscribers—an outlier performance, given the steep erosion of most linear pay TV platforms right now.

Charter Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge said that the cable operator is considering the deployment of its own streaming device to its broadband-only customers. Notably, Charter had talks last year with Comcast about licensing its Xfinity Flex platform.

Certainly, for Comcast, there are advantages for having consumers access services like Peacock through Xfinity Flex, where data collection and advanced advertising can be far more controlled vs. a third-party platform like Roku. Next TV

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