Like a lot of other people, I gave cable the boot due to it's rapacious business practices, and instead purchased a Roku streaming device. Was quite happy with it, until I started running into channels like "The History Channel," and now "NatGeo," that won't play unless you tell them who your "Provider" is, and log in through them to watch.
Roku is acting as a generalized app-store. It seems to me the majority of app stores have the same sort of issues. If you look at Google Play store for Android devices, both the History Channel and National Geographic have application descriptions which claim the apps will stream full episodes. It again isn't clear until you install the app on an Android device the degree to which is it just a wall garden of teaser clips. While Google Play does have In-App purchases for other apps, since the provider login is not an in-app purchase, there is no such warning.
The long and short of it is: just because you see it listed as "available" in the channel store (or whatever they're calling it these days,) that doesn't mean it's available for you to watch. Some of these "offerings" require a cable subscription in order to watch them.
When I go to the Roku "Whats On' web page and look up History and Nat Geo TV, it says clearly that "CABLE OR SATELLITE SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED." So, from what I can tell Roku is doing better than the Google Play app store is doing.
I don't understand WHY Roku shows these channels as if they were available for watching through a streaming device, when in fact they're NOT... unless you have a cable subscription (which kind of defeats the whole purpose of buying a Roku in the first place, doesn't it?) Why would somebody with a cable subscription buy a Roku in the first place? You've got cable... you've got internet... what's the point of having a Roku at all in that situation? I don't get it. I really thought that Roku had positioned itself as "The answer to cable"... but maybe I just got the wrong impression. If so, they've certainly changed their tune.
There are a couple reasons to still get a Roku when subscribing to cable:
(1) Avoid per TV cable box fees:
A friend of mine was told to pay $15 per month per TV to get access to all channels provided by the cable line up. Without the cable box, only a hand full of local TV channels (same as you could get with an antenna) could be viewed. The FCC has required for a long time cable providers also provide a "cable card" as a cheap alternative to a cable box. Comcast went out of their way to make clear they have no intention of actually honoring the cable card requirement. They sent technicians with cards that were either broken or already registered to a previous customer were Comcast's system refused to complete the cable card pairing to his account. Each time the technician said the cable card install would have to be rescheduled of which they didn't have another appointment available for an entire week. And each time my friend would have to wait at home during a 4 hour window for another tech to show up and fail to perform the cable card install. It seems they are comfortable with charging customers for a miss appointment but provide no refund if the customer's time is wasted due to the appointment producing no results. This went on for a *MONTH* were Comcast failed to provide the cable card activation required by law.
However, with a Roku, my friend got all the channels he cared about for an one-time fee. Setup of the Roku took only minutes to get successful results instead of waiting over a hour to hear more Comcast run-around.
(2) Roku can supplement a cable subscription with content not otherwise availabe.
For a long time Roku has provided "SmartTV.com" channel and allowed customers to order the content direct from the provider. The same content has been blocked by Comcast and Charter regardless of how many cable customers requested to be able to subscribe. In court documents about the matter, both cable providers have indicated they have first amendment rights to use "editorial discretion" to not provide the content to their customers. Therefore, while customers may choose to use Comcast or Charter for access to other content, the only way for those customers to get to SmartTV.com was to get a device like Roku to bypass the cable company "editorial" prohibition.
So anyway, prospective cord cutters: know that Roku is not a direct replacement for cable. It's better than nothing at all (especially with broadcast TV all but extinct), but there's still a bunch of "pay-for" (which I have no problem with at all... I pay for several channels now), and other stuff that you can't watch at all unless you do in fact still have cable. I just don't think that cable-only content has any place in the Roku lineup. OR, if it does, why it isn't segregated into a 'cable-only' or 'cable subscription required' area. I'd happily pay for either of these channels (or any channel I like enough to be willing to pay for,) but that's just not an option here. Cable, or nothing.
HBO has shown with "HBO NOW" that content historically only available through cable can be made available direct to consumer. If there is specific channels you expect to be able to pay for independent of paying a cable company, you should contact the companies that provide that content and ask why there isn't alternatives to cable. It isn't really up to Roku how other companies choose to license or bill for their content.
To Roku's credit, they have made worked to make more content available in their own Roku channel that has never required cable to get full access to. While it would be nice to be able to pay a monthly fee to get an ad-free Roku channel, I think they are trying to avoid conflicting/competing with the other companies that publish channels to their device.
I'm beginning to think that they're just all in bed together... given cables' deep pockets, they probably just quietly bought Roku, left it mostly alone to appease cable haters like me, and just as quietly started adding their 'cable-subscription-required' content. And no, I'm not some conspiracy-theory nut... I just for the life of me can't understand why I'm seeing things in the Roku that I can't watch unless I ALSO have cable. And if I had cable, why would I have a Roku?
You really should do some research into Anthony J. Wood, the founder of Roku. His attempts to provide a DVR (called ReplayTV) which could make it easy for people to skip through commercials was treated as a major threat to the status quo by the established media companies. He currently has a net worth of $1 billion and has plenty of money to live well for the rest of his life. The idea he might have sold-out to big cable doesn't make sense to me.
The first Roku was originally designed to make it easier to see Netflix directly on a TV. Again, Netflix also was treated as a major threat to the status quo. Netflix continues to run fast.com to help customers see if their cable provider is really providing the network speed they claim they are to customers.
Roku is "in bed together" to the same extent a web browser, Google Play or any other generalized platform is. It might be nice if Roku settings included channel store filtering options were someone could choose to exclude all cable subscription based channels. But such an option might just create user confusion. It seems to me that Roku has tried to balance the needs for being transparent with Roku users by including the cable subscription requirement in ALL CAPS in the channel store when a channel has such a requirement.
If you still wrap your head around why a Roku provide any benefit to someone that already has cable, then return your Roku to where you bought it.