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Roku's Stock Tumbles as Its Battle With Fox Spills Over Into Super Bowl Weekend

By Danny Vena - Jan 31, 2020 at 1:42PM

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The hottest telecast of the year has become a pawn in a streaming TV agreement power struggle.

There's no denying that Roku (ROKU 8.96%) was one of the best-performing stocks of 2019. The streaming pioneer's stock price rocketed 337% last year, driven by soaring growth. Revenue grew 50% year over year in the most recent quarter, but the company's platform is growing even faster, up 79%, and now accounts for 69% of Roku's total revenue. Streaming hours also saw robust increases, up 68% year over year to 10.3 billion hours, while active users' accounts grew 36% to 32.3 million.

Roku's stock took a nosedive on Friday, however, falling about 7% to its lowest point since early November, as the company let customers know that channels from Fox Corp. (FOX 2.77%) -- which will be broadcasting Super Bowl LIV this weekend -- will not be available on its platform beginning Friday, Jan. 31.

Two men sitting on a couch watching football on television.

Image source: Getty Images.

A battle off the gridiron

The companies are embroiled in a bitter dispute, as a distribution agreement between the two expired on Friday. Roku began notifying its customers in an email that "all stand-alone FOX channels will no longer be available on Roku streaming devices." Roku provided a list of seven channels that were on the chopping block: Fox Now, Fox Sports, Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Soccer, Big Ten Network, and Fox Nation. As of Friday afternoon, the channels were all still available on the Roku platform, so it's unclear exactly when the channels will actually be removed.

The company went on to point out that customers could still catch the big game through a variety of other services on its platform, including FuboTV, Disney-controlled Hulu, Sling TV, Alphabet's YouTube TV, as well as through a number of other live TV services. Roku also suggested that customers would be able to watch Fox over the air with an antenna. 

A spokesperson for Fox placed the blame squarely on Roku, calling its tactics a "poorly timed negotiating ploy." The company's statement went on to say:

Roku's threat to delete FOX apps from its customers' devices is a naked effort to use its customers as pawns. To be clear, FOX has not asked Roku to remove our apps, and we would prefer Roku continue to make them available without interruption. ... 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. 

Of course, there are two sides to every story. "We offered Fox an extension ... if an agreement is not reached, we'll be forced to remove the channels," a Roku spokesperson said.

A potentially expensive gambit by both Roku and Fox

The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched live events on broadcast television, viewed on 67% of U.S. televisions. Last year, more than 98 million viewers watched the championship game.

It's worth noting that ratings have dipped in recent years, sliding in each of the past four years. In 2018, 103.5 million watched the game, down from 111.3 million and 11.9 million in 2017 and 2016, respectively. It peaked in 2015 at 114.4 million.

This could be an expensive gambit by both companies, resulting in lower overall viewership across both Roku's platform and Fox's networks. Advertising is a big component of revenue for both broadcasters, so it would be in each company's best interest to resolve this dispute quickly -- especially since there are only two days until the big game.

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Roku Stock Quote
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