Comcast-Time Warner Cable Deal May Be Bad News For Roku Owners

03/11/2014 07:38 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014
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One group that may lose out if the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal goes through may be Roku owners.

Roku, the popular streaming device, is one of the easiest ways to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, and pretty much anything on your television. And if you pay for premium TV, (or know somebody who does ) you can probably use Roku with popular apps like HBO Go to watch loads of content on demand.

But if you get cable TV via Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, you can't take full advantage of a Roku. You can't use the HBO Go or Showtime Anytime apps, among others. And unlike Time Warner Cable, which has an app on Roku that lets subscribers watch TV live and on demand, Comcast doesn't have a Roku app for its cable service.

If Comcast's $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable is approved by government regulators, there's a chance that existing TWC subscribers may lose out, too.

Roku is not exactly a tiny player. The company has said it has sold close to 8 million streaming devices in the U.S., and Roku sales accounted for more than one-fifth of U.S. sales of standalone streaming devices in the last three months of 2013, according to NPD Group. Google Chromecast and Apple TV, competitors in the market, accounted for 47 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

The ability to watch HBO Go and other TV and video using Roku is something that owners of the streaming device seem to demand. A forum on the media and communication giant's website that features requests for HBO Go and access to the company's cable package on Roku is 38 pages long, and a Facebook page that pleads with Comcast to support HBO Go has nearly 2,000 supporters.

"I just wanted to stand up with everyone else here and state that as a customer, I would like to be able to access HBOGO from my Roku!," one person wrote last month in a Comcast forum. "If this is not an option in the near future and if I am not able to find a work-around I will leave Comcast."

Roku owners who subscribe to Time Warner Cable don't have these problems (though they certainly have plenty of others). Apart from being able to access some of their premium cable networks, they can use the TWC app to bypass Time Warner Cable's notoriously user-unfriendly cable box allowing those who want to watch cable on more than one TV to save an $11 monthly fee for an additional cable box.

It's unclear what would happen to Roku owners with Time Warner Cable subscriptions if the merger goes through. Neither Comcast nor Time Warner Cable would say. "It's still many months before the proposed merger is expected to close and it's too early to speculate about specifics like platforms or apps," said Rich Ruggiero, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable.

When asked why Comcast subscribers with Rokus can't access certain apps, Comcast repeated a statement it has used in the past to address questions about accessibility on devices:

"With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources," a Comcast spokesperson said in the statement. "Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players.”

But this doesn't seem to be a high priority for Comcast. HBO Go has been available on Roku for more than two years, and Comcast still doesn't support it.

Comcast does allow its subscribers to watch HBO Go on a number of devices, including Apple TV, Xbox 360, Google's Chromecast and Android, and iOS phones and tablets. Comcast also benefits by restricting content on devices that connect to your TV. If subscribers want to watch HBO content on demand on a second TV -- and they don't have a supported device -- they'll have to get another set-top box from Comcast, with a monthly fee that starts at about $10.

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