Originally developed as an external device to deliver Netflix, Roku has grown into a major force in the consumer electronics, programming and content delivery worlds. Their product range includes a variety of external streaming devices, from simple “Sticks” to HDR-capable 4K devices, and their technology is claimed to power one in five smart TVs, and is available across ten brands. With more than 5,000 “Channels,” ad sales have also become a significant part of Roku’s revenue and profit picture.
Along with offering the independent subscription-based and free channel streams it is known for, Roku is now expanding its own curated offerings. Prominent among them is The Roku Channel, already a top 15 channel on the Roku platform, and third among Roku’s ad supported channels. New and additional content, along with a major refresh and update to its existing aggregation of licensed movie and television content will begin rolling out to both Roku-equipped TVs and their line of external streaming devices starting in May.
According to Rob Holmes, Roku’s VP of programming, the Roku Channel was built to be “Easy to navigate, bring great value and offer a wide choice of content.” Among the new features are “Collections”, that allows a deeper exploration of content, grouped in curated, thematic collections, and a “Continue Watching” feature, similar to other streaming services, that allows viewers to resume content they have previously started watching.
More importantly, the update will bring an expanded variety of both live and linear news-related content. Millennial-oriented and both topical news and celebrity/tech/lifestyle-oriented services Cheddar, People TV and Newsy, already available as Roku channels will be grouped in a new “News Category.” More significantly, the addition of a News content will see the OTT launch of the new “ABC News Live” channel.
Differentiated from more existing network-offered news channels, it will provide a 24/7 live streaming channel and, when applicable, live event coverage, along with access to topical aggregations of previously aired news content. Further setting ABC News Live apart will be the absence of the customary on-screen “anchor.” Using main and split-screen feeds from both ABC News and the resources of their local affiliate stations, this type of presentation is also meant to appeal to the younger-skewing viewer, who has become used to non-linear news consumption.
This type of news presentation will deliver access to live coverage in an unfiltered fashion with the goal of “showing, not telling” users what is happening in the world. Backstopping the live and packaged content will also be access to extended versions of ABC News interviews and footage not aired elsewhere. This new channel will launch exclusively on the Roku Channel and through the ABC owned and operated properties’ web sites and their own apps. Beyond that, the exclusivity is such that ABC News Live will not be a new OTT app.
As an ad-supported channel, Roku will use internally developed technology to raise the bar set by traditional linear programming to deliver a more positive ad experience with increased ad relevance. The ad load will be reduced to no more than four per pod, and individual ads will not be repeated more than twice per hour.
Along with the changes to the Roku Channel, the software update will also include OS 8.1. Along with feature enhancements for an improved streaming experience, the new OS adds multiple private listening connections through the Roku app that supports up to four simultaneous listeners. Interestingly, Roku’s updates have traditionally be released at the same time as new hardware products in the fall. According to Roku, that will no longer be the case with OS updates being released as appropriate during the year.
In an increasingly OTT/streaming-centric market environment, recent market and product announcements from Amazon and rumored new products to come from Google have put additional heat under the battle for “streaming and smart TV”. With today’s announcements, and by tailoring news-oriented content superficially to a more younger skewing audience, Roku has shown that it is not letting up in its efforts to maintain its market lead both in external devices and as the software and UI engine powering ten TV brands that have landed Roku a 20% share of the total SmartTV market.
Stay tuned, this activity will surely impact many product and service segments. There will clearly be more announcements in this area as we move further into the year.