Roku expands its free streaming channel with entertainment and live sports

Roku’s ad-supported free streaming channel is expanding. No, not to more platforms – it already did that. But rather, it’s expanding its content lineup. While before the channel offered free-to-stream movies and news, it will now feature live and linear sports and entertainment content, the company says.

As of earlier this year, The Roku Channel added live news from ABC News, Cheddar, Newsmax, Newsy, People TV, Yahoo, and most recently, The Young Turks, from the TYT Network.

It will now add entertainment content from partners including TMZ, AFV, FailArmy, People Are Awesome, Pet Collective and more. As with the channel’s other offerings, none of these streams will require a subscription.

Meanwhile, the channel will also begin to stream live sporting events from the Adventure Sports Network, COMBT GO, EDGEsport, Stadium, and Wham Network, among others.

The additions come on the heels of Roku’s Q3 earnings, which saw the company beat Wall St. expectations on hardware, but saw platform revenue falling short – causing the stock to drop.

The company has been trying to move beyond being only a hardware device maker selling TVs and streaming players, to grow its platform business and advertising revenues. A key part of that strategy is The Roku Channel, which opens up Roku’s platform to a wider audience, and allows the company to sell ads against content.

The plan may work in the long-run, but it’s taking time to ramp up, it seems.

However, Roku did report a growing user base with 23.8 million active users, streaming 6.2 billion hours in the quarter. That was ahead of expectations of 23.1 million users and 5.8 billion hours.

New Roku Premiere devices make 4K HDR streaming as affordable as $39

Roku

Roku announced two new streaming devices today that sit in the middle of its device lineup. The Roku Premiere and Premiere+ set-top boxes are barely “boxes” at all; instead, they resemble the company’s streaming sticks more than any of its other devices.

If you took the Roku Ultra, the company’s top-tier device, and slashed it in half and shrank it a bit, you’d get the Roku Premiere and Premiere+. The streaming devices are about the length of your index finger and the width of two fingers, making them lightweight and nearly invisible when sitting on an entertainment console while connected to a TV. The front side is a glossy black while the flat back side holds an HDMI port and the power port.

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Amazon may make a free, ad-supported streaming service for Fire TVs

Amazon's Fire TV Cube

Amazon may be gearing up to launch a new video-streaming service, but one that differs greatly from Prime Video. According to a report by The Information, the online retailer’s subsidiary IMDb is developing an ad-supported streaming service that would be available to all Fire TV device users.

Free Dive is the purported name of the service, and it’s said to be similar to The Roku Channel on Roku streaming devices. Roku’s service offers a bunch of licensed shows, movies, and other video content for free to Roku device users, but viewers have to watch advertisements peppered throughout that content. Roku recently expanded The Roku Channel to Web users in the US as well, so those who do not have a Roku streaming device can also watch that content for free.

The Information’s report estimates that Amazon could reach the 48 million Fire TV users with this ad-supported service. That’s a lot of potential eyeballs, many of which will be amenable to sitting through a few advertisements to watch free movies and shows.

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The Roku Channel is now available on the Web without a Roku device

The Roku Channel, a platform for streaming TV and movies, is now available on the Web in the United States. Previously only available on streaming hardware running Roku software, the channel offers a free, ad-supported library.

Roku launched this channel on hardware running Roku OS in October 2017 as a first step in offering content of its own after years of positioning itself as a neutral platform through which Amazon, Netflix, and others could offer their content. Roku licensed mostly movies that are more than 10 years old from studios like Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures, and the library still has that character for today’s Web portal launch: the top-billed items on the homepage are currently the three Matrix films from 1999 and 2003.

Starting earlier this year, Roku began streaming live channels from third parties like ABC and Cheddar, and those are also available in the Web version.

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Roku’s free, ad-supported streaming channel is now live on the web

Roku is today bringing its free, streaming entertainment destination, The Roku Channel, to non-Roku devices for the first time, with a launch on both the web and on select Samsung smart TVs, ahead of a wider cross-platform rollout. The channel, which offers free, ad-supported movies and TV shows, will be available across PCs, mobile phones and tablets, the company says. In addition, Roku is updating the navigation on its own devices, including Roku players and Roku TVs, to include a new feature called “Featured Free,” which will directly point users to free content from The Roku Channel, as well as other apps, like ABC, The CW, CW Seed, Fox, Freeform, Pluto TV, Sony Crackle, Tubi and more.

The Roku Channel first launched last September, as a way for Roku to differentiate its connected media devices and TVs running Roku software from rivals like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecast.

Despite Roku’s popularity — it’s leading the internet video streaming device market — the company hadn’t really used its platform to promote its own content — the way Amazon pushes Prime Video shows on Fire TV owners, for example — until then.

The channel itself is populated with movies that Roku gained access to through licensing deals with studios like Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers. However, it also leveraged Roku’s strength as a platform by pulling in free content from its existing channel partners (with permission), including American Classics, FilmRise, Nosey, OVGuide, Popcornflix, Vidmark and YuYu.

The content itself is monetized through advertising, which Roku’s in-house ad sales team is in charge of selling, with some portion going to partners. The company’s goal has been to smartly place the ads to respect the content they interrupt, and not to inundate viewers with the same ad over and over again.

With the channel’s expansion to the web and other TV platforms, Roku can further grow its advertising business, while also making the case for itself as a device platform. For existing Roku device owners, the channel is just another value-add for being a Roku user — and one that may keep them from jumping ship to another player in the future.

“Roku is the leading platform for free entertainment and our users love it. We’re delighted to deliver even more value to our customers without subscriptions, complicated logins or fees,” said Rob Holmes, Roku’s vice president of Programming and Engagement, in a statement about today’s expansion. “By expanding The Roku Channel to the Web, we’re broadening the access points to high-quality, free streaming entertainment. With Featured Free, we’re making it easy for our customers to see the great, free content already available on the Roku platform in one place, while creating value for our content providers by connecting them with Roku’s growing audience.”

Meanwhile, Roku is again taking advantage of its platform nature with the launch of the “Featured Free” section on its home screen.

This top-level navigational menu — just above “My Feed” on Roku’s home screen — will include a list of popular free content from its channel partners. The shows are identified by name and include a thumbnail image, but it doesn’t indicate which partner’s channel they’re coming from. And, when launched, customers are taken directly to the content itself.

This section will include the latest in-season episodes of top network shows, full past-season catch-ups, classic series and hit movies.

The news of these launches follows a recent report from Variety that claimed Roku is planning to launch its own Amazon Channels-like subscription marketplace, as well. The report said Roku would bring together a number of paid subscription services into the same section, to make it easier for consumers to subscribe to paid channels without needing to first find the right app.

The “Featured Free” section paints a good picture of what this new subscription marketplace could look like — a single destination where the content itself, and not the channel it comes from, is what’s highlighted.

These new features also indicate a shift in Roku’s larger business from being fully reliant on device sales, to transitioning more into services; for now, specifically ad-supported services.

Roku is expected to report its earnings later today, after the market’s close, so the timing of the launches is not coincidental. Wall Street is expecting a net loss of $0.15 per share, down from $0.18 in the year-ago quarter, and sales up 41.46 percent to reach $99.6 million, in Q2. Overall, analysts predict Roku will report annual sales of $697.9 million.

Roku says the “Featured Free” section will begin to roll out to U.S. users starting today, and will reach all customers over the weeks ahead.

The Roku Channel, meanwhile, is available on the web as of now, via TheRokuChannel.com.

Roku wants to grab audiophiles with its new wireless speakers for Roku TVs

Roku

Roku focuses heavily on its licensing programs, which allow OEMs to make TVs, soundbars, and other devices that use Roku software and work seamlessly with Roku devices. But now, Roku’s getting into the audio business with an in-house product: the company announced the Roku TV Wireless Speakers today, a set of two HomePod-esque speakers designed to work exclusively with Roku TVs. It also developed the new Roku Touch tabletop voice remote that some users may find more useful and less intrusive than Amazon’s Alexa.

While the tech specs of the speakers haven’t been released yet, we know how they’ll connect to and work with Roku TVs. The speaker set pairs wirelessly with Roku TVs via Roku Connect, and, thanks to built-in software that works with Roku OS, the speakers will sync up with whatever you’re watching on the smart TV. Roku told Ars in a briefing that the speakers will play optimized audio from anything connected to the paired Roku TV, including cable boxes, antennas, and even Bluetooth devices like your smartphone.

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