Roku in Talks With Apple About AirPlay 2 Support

Roku is in talks with Apple about supporting AirPlay 2, with the two companies currently working out details surrounding the partnership, according to a source familiar with the matter. The plans are not finalized and are subject to change.



We’re told that AirPlay 2 support is likely to arrive in the form of a Roku OS software update for Roku media players, which can be used with virtually any smart TV. The update would likely extend to smart TVs with Roku OS preinstalled, including select models from Sharp, TCL, Insignia, Hisense, Sanyo, and RCA.

It’s unclear when the software update might be released or if it will be limited to select Roku players and TVs. We’re told the partnership may extend to Apple Music, suggesting that Roku OS could gain an app to access the streaming music service alongside existing apps for Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora.

Last month, we asked Roku if it was willing to work with Apple on AirPlay 2 support and a spokesperson said “we don’t have anything to share regarding this now.” Roku did not immediately respond to our follow-up request for comment today, while Apple rarely comments on its plans in advance.

With AirPlay 2 support, Roku users would be able to stream video, audio, photos, and more directly from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to their smart TVs. HomeKit is also coming to many smart TVs, enabling users to control volume, playback, and more using Siri or the Home app on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Last month, Apple announced that select AirPlay 2-enabled smart TVs are coming from leading brands such as Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony. Samsung’s latest smart TVs are also getting an exclusive iTunes app for movies and TV shows.

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Roku now deleting Infowars from its platform after customer outcry

Roku is deleting the Infowars channel from its platform, a couple days after adding it as a supported channel. In a tweet, Roku said after the channel became available, “we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

Digiday first reported this morning that Roku had added the Infowars live show hosted by Alex Jones to the platform as supported channel, a decision that was immediately met with protests by customers who threatened to switch to Apple TV and other competitors.

Jones is currently the target of a defamation lawsuit filed by family members of Sandy Hook victims, who say they have experienced harassment, including death threats, as a result of conspiracy theories spread by Jones and Infowars that claim the 2012 elementary school shooting was a hoax. The lawsuit has been in the headlines recently after a judge ruled that victims’ families must receive access to internal Infowars documents.

Roku’s decision to support the Infowars channel was also especially egregious because it was purged from multiple social media and app platforms, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouPorn for violating their content policies or terms of service, about six months ago.

Earlier today, Roku attempted to defend adding Infowars to its platform by releasing a statement that said in part that “while the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint. We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.”

TechCrunch has emailed Roku for comment.

Roku explains why it allowed Infowars on its platform

Roku has just made a bad decision with regard to its growing advertising business by associating its brand with the toxic conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. As Digiday first reported this morning, Roku has chosen to add the Infowars live show hosted by Jones to the Roku platform as a supported channel, much to the disgust of customers now hammering the company on its social media platforms.

The company, apparently, is opting for the “we’re a neutral platform” defense in the matter, despite the fact that most major platforms have backed away from this stance with regard to Jones.

Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even YouPorn have removed Infowars from their respective platforms.

The decision to allow the channel comes at a time when Jones and Infowars are in the headlines again because of a recent update in the legal battle between the Sandy Hook families and the Infowars program. The families are suing the conspiracy theorist for spreading the false claim that the school shooting was an elaborate hoax, and that Infowars peddled these stories to stoke fear and sell more products like survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia, The New York Times reports.

A judge has ordered Infowars to turn over internal documents to the families that relate to its business plan or marketing strategies, the shooting itself, crisis actors, or mass shootings in general.

Roku’s decision to allow the channel at all is a poor one not only in terms of taking a moral stance on complicated matters (if you’re of the mindset that’s something companies should do) – it seems to go against Roku’s own policy that bans content which is “unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights.”

This is the same general premise that saw Infowars banned everywhere else.

Because of Jones’ claims, the Sandy Hook families have received death threats and have been continually harassed, even offline. Jones has also promoted other theories that led to violence, like Pizzagate.

Roku’s position, seemingly, is that the channel hasn’t done any bad stuff yet on its platform, never mind its past.

Many Roku customers on social media are threatening to boycott. A search for terms including “roku,” “boycott,” and others related to the news are picking up speed on Twitter, the #boycottroku hashtag has just now re-appeared, as well. (It was used previously by customers protesting the NRA channel.)

Given Amazon Fire TV and Roku’s tight race and Roku’s hunt for ad revenue through newer initiatives like its Roku Channel, a boycott could have material impact. (It looks like Amazon picked the right day to launch its updated Fire TV Stick with the new Alexa remote. At $40, it’s not going to be hard for consumers to switch streamers, if it comes to that. A search for “infowars” in Amazon Fire TV apps is not currently returning results, if you’re curious.)

Roku has become one of the top streaming media device makers in the U.S. and globally, recently having reached nearly 24 million registered users. Digiday notes that it’s projected to generate $293 million in advertising in 2018, per eMarketer, putting it just behind Hulu.

Apparently, Roku believes it can distance itself from the content it hosts on its platform.

That’s not a good look for advertisers, however, many who won’t want their brand appearing anywhere near Infowars. And because Roku runs ads right on its homescreen, that means advertisers’ content can actually sit directly beside the Infowars channel icon, if not in the program itself.

For example:

It may also make advertisers hesitant to work with Roku on other initiatives because it shows a lack of understanding over how to manage brand safety, or because they fear a consumer backlash.

Roku’s full statement is below:

Our streaming platform allows our customers to choose from thousands of entertainment, news and special interest channels, representing a wide range of topics and viewpoints. Customers choose and control which channels they download or watch, and parents can set a pin to prevent channels from being downloaded. While the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint.

We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.

While open to many voices, we have policies that prohibit the publication of content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights, among other things. If we determine a channel violates these policies, it will be removed. To our knowledge, InfoWars is not currently in violation of these content policies.

Sling TV rolls out free content to non-subscribers, initially on Roku

Last year, Dish-owned streaming service Sling TV launched a free tier to its service designed to attract those with lapsed subscriptions to come back and watch. On Roku devices, former customers were able to tune into more than 100 hours of TV shows and movies without a subscription by launching the Sling TV app. Today, the service is extending a similar offer to newcomers. On Roku devices, those who have never signed up for the streaming TV service will have the chance to browse and watch free shows, without the need for a subscription.

In other words, this is not a “free trial,” it’s a free — if limited — selection of content.

To access the free tier, newcomers can click “Browse as Guest” in order to then browse and watch from content in the “My TV” section of the app. This section includes TV shows like “Shameless,” “The Big Interview with Dan Rather,” “Heartland” and others. Users can also browse more than 5,000 movies that can be watched if they choose to subscribe.

Sling TV is targeting Roku because it’s one of the most well-adopted media player platforms in the U.S., which makes it a prime target for a user acquisition strategy like this.

Having a functioning app instead of a static landing page may prompt users to subscribe to the base subscription, and it may also prompt sign-ups for Sling TV’s newer à la carte channels.

At the same time last year when the company announced its free tier for lapsed subscribers, it also launched à la carte programming as a way to differentiate itself from other live TV services. Unlike Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV, this feature allows Sling TV users to buy access to standalone paid channels, without needing to subscribe to a TV package — like how Amazon Prime Video Channels works.

As a result, Sling TV can today serve as a place to watch paid channels like Showtime, CuriosityStream, NBA League Pass, Docurama, Stingray Karaoke and others.

Newcomers on this free tier can also rent PPV events without a subscription, the company says.

Free programming today is being used as a lure to attract customers to various platforms in the streaming video market and beyond. Amazon offers to Prime subscribers a ton of free video, including originals, and just last week launched a new ad-supported streaming service from IMDb. Roku offers free content on The Roku Channel, and Plex recently said it will venture into this area in 2019, as well.

Alongside the launch of the free programming, Sling TV is rolling out an improved search experience, which now shows “popular searches,” and a new binge-watching feature.

The latter will prompt users to watch the next episode in an on-demand or recorded series after they’ve completed the current episode, and will auto-play it if no action is taken in 10 seconds.

The new free tier is initially rolling out to Roku users, starting today, but will come to other devices in the future.

The updated Search option is live now on Android TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices. And the binge-watching feature is first coming to Roku devices in the weeks ahead, with support for others also arriving in the future.

TCL on AirPlay-2 Enabled TVs: ‘We Are Currently Committed to Roku’

Earlier this week, Apple announced that AirPlay 2-enabled smart TVs are coming from leading manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony. Those four brands lead the TV market in the United States, but up-and-coming Chinese vendor TCL has made a name for itself stateside over the past few years.



When asked if TCL would be willing to work with Apple on adding AirPlay 2 support to its smart TVs, a spokesperson for TCL told MacRumors the company is “currently committed to Roku,” which has a software platform for smart TVs.

TCL’s partnership with Roku doesn’t necessarily preclude AirPlay 2 support, but neither companies are willing to promise it right now. A spokesperson for Roku said “we don’t have anything to share regarding this now.” We also asked Apple if it would be willing to work with TCL, but did not receive a response.

TCL describes itself as “America’s fastest-growing TV brand” and the “third largest TV manufacturer in the world.” The company has been able to gain market share in the United States thanks to both Roku integration and its generally less expensive lineup of smart TVs compared to the likes of Samsung and LG.

Roku OS for TCL TVs is the same software used on its standalone media players, enabling users to stream content from a wide selection of services, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, HBO NOW, Pandora, and Spotify.

AirPlay 2 support would allow users to stream video, audio, photos, and more directly from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to TCL smart TVs, with multi-room audio support. HomeKit is also coming to many smart TVs, enabling users to control volume, playback, and more using Siri or the Home app on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

At least for now, however, those who want those AirPlay 2 features on their TCL smart TV will have to consider options from its competitors instead.

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VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.