Disney Prohibits WatchESPN Streaming On Roku TV


By way of USA Today and Rob Pegoraro, we’re reminded that while Roku TV provides a whole lot of good, the over-the-top experience remains compromised due to deep-seated fear and loathing amongst some content providers. Specifically, Disney has prohibited access to the WatchESPN app and a raft of Disney-branded channels available … on traditional Roku boxes. And, of course, Roku is clearly complicit as they cozy up to these guys while segregating their hardware offerings. The sad irony is that anti-consumer policies like these leave a number of folks wondering why they bother paying for cable when they may not be able to watch their programming how or where they want it. Perhaps the successor to CableCARD will provide a more sensible path forward. Or maybe all that excluded Disney content will simply find its way to Roku via Bittorrent and Plex.

31 thoughts on “Disney Prohibits WatchESPN Streaming On Roku TV”

  1. One industry person reminds us it could also be content contracts and partners further down the line… which doesn’t really change the fact that this remains an industry problem and consumers are penalized. Consumers who will blame the messenger(s).

  2. Dave, as you indicated, someday content providers may figure out that messing with paying customers ability to watch content they are paying for how, when , & where the customer wants is not a good idea and very likely to turn their paying customers into non-paying customers.

  3. Yeah, Plex is awesome. atmusky is exactly correct, it’s crap like this that turns people into non-paying customers. Though it’s the live sports that really hurt.

  4. Meh. As normal, I’m pro-content companies and anti-monopoly MSO’s. If Disney doesn’t want to let its sports be on Smart TV platforms, while allowing it on separately connected lean-back boxes, why not? I understand their logic. I mean, I like older movies, and I really wish Watch TCM were available for the lean-back, rather than just for mobile. But I understand TCM’s logic. (And they’re just a middleman, not a content company.)

    OTOH, stuff like Comcast restricting it’s authenticated OTT stuff to only certain lean-back boxes ought to be made illegal by the FCC.

    “One industry person reminds us it could also be content contracts and partners further down the line”

    Certainly could be. But is that really likely? Here’s why I think it’s unlikely: given the way pretty much all MSO authenticated lean-back OTT restrictions have played out in the past, if that were the case, wouldn’t WatchESPN on Smart TV’s be allowed by certain MSO’s and blocked by other MSO’s?


    “Or maybe all that excluded Disney content will simply find its way to Roku via Bittorrent and Plex.”

    It’s sportstown, Jake. An oasis from piracy concerns.


    “Consumers who will blame the messenger(s).”

    Don’t disagree with you in general, but worth noting that in this particular case, I’d assume consumers will (unfairly) blame Roku. I wonder if Roku understood this kind of thing would be coming ’round the bend when they decided to get into the Smart TV game. If they did understand, they’re taking a real risk here. After all, they’re the industry leader for a reason, and stuff like this has real potential to damage their brand.

  5. It’s a shame. Disney was at one time seemingly ahead of the curve. They were one of the early supporters of iTunes TV and Movie offerings, and for awhile, it seemed not a platform shipped without WatchESPN and WatchDisney apps. Now, they do this. Oh and also, if you have a 2014 edition Moto X you won’t find their apps in the Play Store. They didn’t tick that box for compatability, and of course won’t for months since they don’t really take any action on feedback.

  6. I’m a cord cutter and I’ll never go back to cable. I’m very interested in Sling tv to a point, but if they don’t hurry and send me an invitation, they’ll lose me forever and “Watch ESPN” won’t matter. Your time is short, Sling tv; better hurry and send me an invite!

  7. When will this start? I get ESPN3 through my internet provider and watch through the Roku app. I watched the Australian Open men’s final this morning and just checked to make sure it was streaming now. I also just got my invite to Sling TV today – I wasn’t going to do it because I still think it’s $5-10/month overpriced, but I may if I can’t watch through the ESPN app alone.

  8. Actually, that brings up another interesting angle as Roku says Sling TV (with ESPN) is coming (has come?) to both Roku boxes and Roku TV. The future of TV won’t be simple. Perhaps Disney and ESPN will change their Roku TV policy once they decide to limit access to a single stream per account or something? Tho I still don’t get the real world difference between a streaming TV and a streaming dongle or box…

  9. “Tho I still don’t get the real world difference between a streaming TV and a streaming dongle or box…”

    Input 1…

  10. Or, perhaps, we should be thinking Input 0…

    (Chucky World Industries, in conjunction with our many Smart TV partners, will be overlaying ads over the entire 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl. Surprise! We might even make the news tomorrow. Our newest motto: own the Smart TV, own the viewer.)

  11. Disney is preventing people from having access to WatchESPN and some of their other content. Who cares? It would be to their advantage to have as many viewers as possible, so if people bail on them, it’s their loss.

  12. I’m perplexed by choices made by FX. I have a Comcast subscription and a desire to watch two shows on FX that I’ve heard good things about. They are “Fargo” and “the Strain “. Both are new shows that I would think FX would like people to discover and watch. Neither of them are ever rerun, so I cant TIvo them. Nor are they available on Xfinity on demand or FX NOW, mobile or Roku App. Not available on Hulu or Netflix either. The only way I can watch these is to wait, or spend more money and buy them from Amazon or Vudu. That’s BS. FX does have full episodes of some of its other series available online, for other shows just clips, and other shows nothing. it makes a paying customer ask themselves ” why am paying all this money, and I still can’t watch what I want?.” I’ll be cutting the cord when I get my Sling TV invite.

  13. With my guidance, she’d pull up Syracuse on WatchESPN one or two times a year. If nothing else, that $188 32″ Roku TV I wanted for the den/deck is now off the table. Guess I’m sticking with Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick for the existing 22″ Vizio blog TV.

  14. “With my guidance, she’d pull up Syracuse on WatchESPN one or two times a year.”

    I would’ve been your Smart Cochlear Implant cooing “Smart TV’s are for Dumb People” when you went to buy it.

    But I died.

  15. My guess it’s because of Sling TV.
    Why? It looks like the ‘channels’ on Sling are actually the ‘Watch’ streams.

  16. I authenticated through Sling TV on a Roku 3 and the Watch ESPN app so it works for sure. ESPN3 content is there too.

    ESPN3 content was missing from the app on Android but since it works on the Roku, I’d expect it’ll work there too. I tried the Watchdisney app and there was no choice for Sling TV.

  17. Oh, this is just about the Roku Tvs (Tcl, hisense). That’s just ridiculous.

    With the TV off, I can get into watchespn now in 2 remote clicks with an all-in-one remote and a Roku 3 – 1 click even if I stay in the app and leave it in a non-streaming area.

  18. Insignia (Best Buy) and Haier will be joining TCL and Hisense in a month or three. Supposedly, TCL will also introduce a 4K “Roku TV” this year.

  19. Hmmm…

    It’ll be interesting to see if Sling TV shows up on Smart TV’s, or if Disney restricts it to external input devices. (Well, interesting in an industry-watch sense, since I obviously don’t care about Smart TV’s myself.)

    There’s no statement from Disney itself in that article. But the hearsay offered is:

    “(Disney does) not participate in the Smart TV market at this time, so those channels are not available on Smart TV platforms,” wrote Roku spokesman Todd Witkemper.

    So, if Witkemper is to be taken literally, it could well have implications for Sling TV too.

  20. I’m not surprised it’s on the TVs. It does nothing to “marginalize” the channels model. Remember, they make money two ways. Advertisements (you can include product placement under that) and carriage fees.

    Comcast, Dish, Time Warner etc also make money in primarily two ways (talking about their TV services now, not necessarily channels they also own). Subscriber fees, and advertising. Every time you watch a 30 minute show, there’s what, 22 minutes of content, and 8 minutes of ads. Some of those ads are local (sold by the local Comcast affiliate for example, or by Dish Network nationwide), and most are sold by the channel itself. It’s why you see these huge, national $4 million dollar Super Bowl ads, and then during half time you see an ad for a local car dealer. They didn’t pay $4 million for that, but the audience is much smaller too.

    My gut is, a Disney finds no issue with Sling TV, as it’s a traditional model distributor. Maybe it doesn’t beam via satellite, or come down as straight TV (ie: not IPTV) through coaxial cable, but it’s the model they know, that earns them most of their revenue.

    1) Sling pays them to carry channels.
    2) Sling charges you to offset.
    3) The cable channels sell advertising during their broadcast.
    4) Sling (presumably) sells advertising during the ‘local’ spots during the broadcast.

    Watch Disney apps bypass a lot of that. There’s no EXTRA revenue, actually less (these apps tend to have NO ads or FEW ads). They also encourage people to further get away from channel numbers and live TV watching, which conditions them not to see ads.

  21. “I’m not surprised it’s on the TVs.”

    Yeah. I’m not particularly surprised either, for all the reasons you note. Was just wondering how literally the hearsay offered by the Roku guy should be taken.

  22. I guess the statement is still true. At that time, they did not. Now they do. But all joking aside, they still don’t permit Watch Disney or Watch ESPN. They just permit their channels to be carried through Sling TV on the platform. It’s somewhat different.

  23. “Looks like my local Wal-mart’s are out of the 32″ variant. Will keep my eyes open.”

    By peeking in to your Dropcam via your unsecurable Actiontec router, I can see you already have teevees in all your hallways. So you’re partly on the way to the goal of having enough teevees spread around your house so you never have to move your neck more than 45 degrees to see a teevee.

    But you still have a ways to go in order to get to optimal teevee saturation. Remember: the rule of thumb is to divide your total square footage by twenty to get your minimum number of teevees. Staircases, ceilings, floors, clothes closets, showers, and roofs are all appropriate placement spots to help you achieve your goal.

  24. Yeah, my Nest app was updated yesterday with some Dropcam-related stuff. Google is all knowing.

    By the by, a buddy of mine who really does have a flat panel in every room, including his bathroom, just heard about Sling TV (from a Fire TV Stick) and was pretty fired up yesterday. Until I told him he couldn’t simultacast to multiple TVs at the same time. I also let him know it wasn’t limited to a Fire TV Stick. But the single stream is probably a deal breaker for his use case.

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