The Roku Channel, Amazon Fire TV Partner, Consolidating Streaming Video Influence

The Roku Channel and Amazon Fire TV have inked a distribution partnership affording the former’s 100,000 ad-supported content titles and 115+ live TV channels onto the Fire TV platform. This includes Fire TV smart TVs, soundbars and streaming devices with Alexa voice commands, according to a blog post.

On the surface, the partnership would seem to make little sense considering the competitive business models. The Roku Channel, which launched in 2017, has about 43 million registered users. Combined with Fire TV’s 40 million active users, the two platforms represent gateways to 70% of the domestic streaming media device market, according to Comscore.

“We’re building on our commitment to make The Roku Channel even more accessible by expanding onto [third-party] streaming devices,” Rob Holmes, VP of programming and engagement at Roku, said of the Fire TV deal in a statement.

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The Roku Channel typically operates revenue-sharing agreements with content holders. The Roku platform, which generated 69% of Roku revenue in the most-recent fiscal period, affords users access to third-party SVOD services such as Netflix and Disney+. Roku is likely splitting ad-revenue with Amazon in order to put The Roku Channel onto Fire TV, according to observers.

At the same time, Fire TV does not allow access to its third-party SVOD services directly via Roku, despite the fact Amazon’s Prime Channels platform (featuring third-party SVOD services) is available on Roku.

This means that Roku users wanting to stream services such as Showtime OTT, Starz, Epix or HBO on their Fire TV, can do so only by subscribing to those services directly through the Roku platform.

It’s a similar situation HBO Max finds itself in. WarnerMedia’s high-profile SVOD platform is not available on Roku or Fire TV. NBCUniversal’s Peacock just inked a deal with Roku, which should significantly enhance its access to OTT video consumers.

“An expanding and increasingly engaged audience makes The Roku Channel a more attractive place for content owners to share their series and films,” wrote Adam Levy with The Motely Fool. “More content makes it more attractive to viewers, creating a virtuous cycle for Roku.”

Roku Offering Free 90-Day Access to Apple TV+; Introduces New Ultra Media Player, Branded Sound Bar, Operating System

Roku Sept. 28 announced it would give customers who purchase and activate a Roku device between Oct. 23, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, three months of free access to Apple TV+, the SVOD platform launched last November. The offer is available to new Apple TV+ subscribers only and must be redeemed by Feb. 2, 2021. Apple TV+ costs $4.99/month after free trial. Plan automatically renews until canceled.

Roku is also offering 30-day free trials to Showtime, Starz+ and Epix via The Roku Channel through Oct. 4, 2020 with the purchase and activation of an eligible Roku device.

The subscription streaming video-on-demand co-founder (with Netflix) unveiled its new streaming lineup for the U.S. to include a redesigned Roku Ultra ($99.99) media player, in addition to the Roku Streambar ($129.99). Roku also announced a new OS 9.4 operating system. The news sent Roku’s stock up 1.6% in early-morning trading.

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“We are focused on delivering a variety of innovative, top-performing products at an incredible value to our customers so they can get to the content they care about quickly,” Mark Ely, VP of retail product strategy, said in a statement.

The Roku Ultra features upwards 50% more range and Bluetooth support with Dolby Vision picture quality and Dolby Atmos sound when paired with compatible devices. The device also comes with voice remote featuring TV power and volume controls, personal shortcut buttons, and headphones for private listening, a lost remote finder and HDMI cable. The Roku Ultra can also be controlled by speaking to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant devices.

Later this year, Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit capabilities are expected to begin roll out on select 4K Roku devices. With Apple AirPlay 2, users can stream videos and music to the big screen, and with HomeKit, they can control their Roku device using the Home app and Siri.

Additional features include access to music streaming services Spotify Connect and three-month free trial of Pandora Premium with purchases a Roku device through Nov. 6 and redeemed by Nov. 8, 2020.

Report: Streaming Media Devices Top 1.1 Billion

The rise of over-the-top video distribution, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, has pushed the global number of streaming video devices (including connected TVs) in homes past 1.1 billion, according to new data from Strategy Analytics. The finding from 27 countries underscores the role of television manufacturers in OTT video distribution in homes.

Samsung tops the market with 14% of devices in use, followed by Sony (12%), LG (8%), Hisense (5%), TCL (5%) and Amazon Fire TV (5%). It follows then that Samsung’s proprietary operating system (Tizen) accounts for 11% of deployed devices, followed by WebOS (7%), PlayStation (7%), Roku OS (5%, Amazon Fire OS (5%), Android TV (4%) and Xbox (4%).

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The research highlights the fact that streaming video is increasingly viewed on TV screens rather than mobile devices, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and connected TVs have become a leading platform in video streaming.

“Over-the-top TV and video streaming to the TV is a complex and evolving landscape compared to mobile devices, where only two platforms dominate,” David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement.

David Mercer, VP of media and intelligent home at Strategy Analytics, said that as pay-TV declines, so too will traditional television and video platforms. TV streaming, Mercer says, represents the future of television and video.

“Over the next decade or so we expect Internet streaming to dominate consumption of television and video content across much of the world,” he said. “This research reflects the early stages in the evolution of the platforms which will come to dominate this ecosystem for many years to come.”

Netflix Dropping Support for Older Roku Players

Netflix and Roku in 2008 created the subscription streaming video market with the launch of a branded “Netflix” player made in China by Roku.

Eleven years later Netflix is reportedly dropping support for some original Roku devices due to technology advances that render the players nearly obsolete.

Cord Cutters News reports that Roku devices unable to accommodate Netflix’s autoplay function would most-likely be affected. Devices include:

  • Roku DVP (N1000)
  • Roku SD (N1050)
  • Roku HD (N1100)
  • Roku HD-XR (N1101)
  • Roku HD (2000C)
  • Roku XD (2050X, 2050N)
  • Roku XD (2100X ,2100N)
  • Roku LT (2400X)
  • Roku 2 HD (3000X)
  • Roku 2 XD (3050X)
  • Roku 2XS (3100X)
  • Roku LT (2450X)
  • Roku HD (2500X)
  • Roku Streaming Stick (3400X, 3420X)

Netflix isn’t alone shunning old-school technology.

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Roku itself in 2015 began dropping support for some of its classic devices manufactured between 2008 and 2011.

“We have made the difficult decision to no longer launch new streaming channels, update existing channels, push firmware updates, or develop the Roku mobile app for classic players,” the company said in a statement at the time.

Last year, Disney-owned Hulu sent out emails to select subscribers informing them about no longer supporting older Roku devices.

“In 2017 we turned Hulu into a personalized TV experience like no other. Among other things, our app went through a complete design overhaul and we launched Hulu with Live TV. In order to do that, we had to let some devices go.”

Hulu now supports the following Roku devices:

  • Roku Ultra
  • Roku Premiere and Premiere+
  • Roku Express and Express+
  • Roku 3 and 4
  • Roku 2 (model 4210)
  • Roku Streaming Stick (model 3500 or later)
  • Roku TV

 

Roku Partners with Walmart for New Soundbar Distribution

Roku and Walmart Oct. 7 announced a partnership that enables the streaming media device pioneer to distribute its new soundbar and wireless subwoofer throughout the world’s largest retailer.

The onn Roku Smart Soundbar and wireless subwoofer will be exclusive to Walmart and Walmart.com for $129 each.

Walmart was one of the first retailers to offer Roku devices linking TVs to the Internet more than 10 years ago.

“We know our customers shop with us for quality products at an affordable price,” Ryan Peterson, VP of consumer electronics for Walmart, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be working with Roku to deliver a new category of audio and streaming products in time for the holiday season that are easy to use and come at an incredible value.”

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Featuring HD, 4K UHD, and HDR video, the onn Roku Smart Soundbar offers simple set up and an easy-to-use home screen, while providing access to 500,000+ movies and TV episodes and millions of songs via thousands of paid and free channels.

Advanced audio modes include automatic volume leveling, night mode and speech clarity. Automatic software updates are expected to deliver new capabilities over time.

The optional subwoofer expands the high-quality audio of the soundbar with deeper, richer sound for a claimed theater-like experience in the home.

“The Roku Smart Soundbar gives consumers an easy way to add better sound instantly to nearly any TV, plus with a 4K Roku streaming player built in, it provides easy access to tons of great movies, TV and music entertainment,” added Mark Ely, VP of players and whole home product management at Roku. “Roku and Walmart have worked together for years to enhance the entertainment experience for millions of people who have purchased Roku TV models and Roku streaming players. Now, we’re looking forward to getting these new audio products on shelves to provide consumers with better sound for their TV experience at a great price.”

 

Amazon Debuts Updated Fire TV Cube Streaming Media Device

Amazon Sept. 4 announced the all-new Fire TV Cube, the second-generation hands-free, Alexa-enabled streaming media device, priced at $119.99.

The player features far-field voice control built directly into the device and is now available for pre-order in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.

“Since launching [Fire TV Cube] last year we have gathered a wealth of feedback from customers about how they use voice in the living room,” Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon Fire TV, said in a statement.

Whitten said new features include an ultra-powerful hexa-core processor, which claims to be more than twice as powerful as the first generation Fire TV Cube, multi-room music, follow-up mode, and Alexa communications.

Fire TV Cube users can stream Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, HBO, Showtime, CBS, Tubi, IMDb TV, Pluto TV, and others. Plus, tune to live TV channels with cable or satellite boxes from providers like Comcast, Dish, AT&T TV/AT&T U-verse, and more.

The all-new Fire TV Cube features instant access to Dolby Vision and 4K Ultra HD content at up to 60 frames per second, as well as the audio clarity of Dolby Atmos on the all-new Fire TV Cube.

In addition, Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) comes with “Local Voice Control,” which is a new on-device processing feature that lets you more quickly execute some of the most frequent voice commands. For example, “Alexa, scroll right,” “Alexa, go home,” “Alexa, select number one,” and more, are up to 4 times as fast as before.

The all-new Fire TV Cube features “far-field” voice recognition with eight microphones and advanced beamforming technology that combines signals from the individual microphones to suppress noise, reverberation, content currently playing, and even competing speech to make sure Alexa clearly hears your request when placed next to your TV.

When combined with the new processor, users can search and navigate content using just their voice, whether it’s through your cable or satellite boxes; streaming apps like YouTube and PlayStation Vue; or HBO, Showtime, and Starz through Prime Video Channels.

In addition, Fire TV Cube uses multi-directional infrared technology, cloud based protocols, and HDMI CEC, that when combined with Alexa, let you control your compatible TV, soundbar, A/V receiver, cable or satellite box, as well as other smart home devices.

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With the built-in speaker, Fire TV Cube lets users dim the lights, check the weather, listen to the news and more—even with the TV off. Since launching last year, nearly 80 percent of customers are using Fire TV Cube for home automation requests and there are tens of thousands of Alexa routines used every week.

The all-new Fire TV Cube (amazon.com/firetvcube) is available for pre-order on Amazon in the United States for $119.99, in Canada for $149.99, the United Kingdom for £109.99, Germany for €119.99, and Japan for ¥14980.

It ships with an IR extender cable and Ethernet adapter beginning on Oct. 10 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. It will ship in Japan on Nov. 5. Customers can also pre-order the all-new Fire TV Cube and Ring Video Doorbell 2 together for $249.99—a savings of $69 (amazon.com/firetvcube-bundle).

In addition, customers who pre-order the new Fire TV Cube are eligible for an Amazon Music Unlimited 90-day extended free trial of the premium music subscription.

Parks: Streaming Media Player Ownership Flattening With Roku and Amazon Leading Space

More than a third (39%) of U.S. broadband households own a streaming media player, but that’s a mere 1% increase from 2018, according to new research from Parks Associates.

Ownership has flattened, the firm noted, although purchase intentions are higher for 2019 compared to previous years.

The report, 360 Deep Dive: Adoption and Use of Connected Video Devices, found connected video device manufacturers may need to shift focus from hardware sales to service and advertising revenue, as ownership reaches saturation, according to Parks.

“Streaming media has reshaped how U.S. consumers interact with entertainment content and services, so as the market matures, sales increasingly come at another vendor’s expense,” said Parks senior analyst Kristen Hanich in a statement. “Video-quality features are the most important factors when consumers buy a connected video device, although Roku and Amazon have certainly benefited among streaming media players by having broad product portfolios that include lower price points.”

Among streaming media players, Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV are the clear market leaders with almost 70% of the installed base of streaming media players in the United States, according to the firm. Consumer-reported data reveals that between Q1 2017 and Q1 2019, Roku’s share of the U.S. streaming media player installed base grew from 37% to 39%, while Amazon’s share of the installed base increased from 24% to 30%.

The report looks at the state of the connected video device space, including smart TV platforms, streaming media devices, smart set-top boxes and gaming consoles, examining the changing roles of these devices and how consumers are engaging with new functionality, such as voice control and live TV integration.

“As the addressable market shrinks, rivalry increases,” said Parks senior analyst Craig Leslie in a statement. “The combined installed base for Roku and Amazon is three times larger than the nearest competitor. The adoption of Roku and Fire TV streaming media players continues to grow at the expense of Chromecast and Apple TV.”

Amazon Reveals 34 Million Fire TV Users, Topping Roku

Amazon has quietly staked the lead in active users of streaming media devices. The ecommerce giant disclosed it has 34 million Fire TV users – about 5 million more than Roku.

Amazon revealed the data May 14 in a presentation by Jen Prenner, global head of marketing at Fire TV, at the Pay TV Show in Denver.

The tally, first reported by TechCrunch, represents a 13.3% increase from the 30 million users Amazon disclosed in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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Amazon now claims Fire TV has become the No. 1 streaming media device in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, India and Japan.

Roku, by comparison, claims its operating system was embedded in 33% of all Internet-connected smart TVs sold in the U.S. in the first quarter.

Roku Ups Q3 Loss Nearly 50%

Streaming media device pioneer Roku Nov. 7 reported third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net loss of $11.7 million, up 49% from a loss of $7.9 million during the previous-year period. Revenue increased 39% to $173.4 million from $124.8 million.

Roku, which created the SVOD market with Netflix in 2008, generated $73.3 million in device revenue, up 9% from $67.2 million last year. Platform revenue, which includes The Roku Channel and third-party advertising, ballooned nearly 74% to $100 million from $57.5 million.

The company ended the quarter with 23.8 million active user accounts, up 43% year-over-year, with more than half of new accounts coming from licensed sources, primarily Roku TVs. Engagement increased with users streaming 6.2 billion hours, up 63% year-over-year.

“We are just starting to witness the massive transition of TV viewing and TV advertising to streaming,” founder/CEO Anthony Wood and CFO Steve Louden wrote in the shareholder letter.

The executives contend the third quarter could be the highest fiscal period yet for pay-TV subscriber losses. A boon for OTT video and platforms such as Roku, according to Wood and Louden.

“The way TV content and advertising are delivered is evolving rapidly and we believe our purpose-built scalable solution is well positioned to be a catalyst for the transition that is underway,” they wrote.

 

 

Roku Bows New 4K Players, Operating System Upgrades

Roku Sept. 24 announced it is expanding its streaming player lineup with the addition of two new devices – the new Roku Premiere and the new Roku Premiere+.

The Roku Premiere ($39.99) and Roku Premiere+ ($49.99) offer streaming video in HD, 4K Ultra HD or 4K HDR. The company also announced updates to its ultimate streaming player, the Roku Ultra, which now features premium JBL headphones and priced at $99.99.

“Tens of millions of 4K TVs will be sold this year; we’re seeing more content, even live sports, produced and streamed in 4K and HDR as each week goes by,” Lloyd Klarke, director of product management at Roku, said in a statement.

Roku Premiere features immersive picture quality in HD, 4K Ultra HD and 4K HDR, quad-core processor and low-profile form factor. It includes an HDMI cable, remote control with channel shortcut buttons, Dolby and DTS Digital Surround pass through over HDMI.

Premiere+ includes everything the Premiere offers plus a voice-activated remote with TV power & volume buttons.

Roku Ultra features the lost remote finder that can be set to play popular tones, including ESPN “SportsCenter” or HBO’s “Game of Thrones” theme song beginning in November.

The Roku Premiere is available for pre-order at Roku.com and, along with the Roku Ultra, will be available at all major retailers beginning in early October. The Roku Premiere+ will be available exclusively at Walmart and Walmart.com in early October.

Separately, Roku announced a software update for Roku TVs that enables new features for compatibility with upcoming Roku TV Wireless Speakers; and Roku OS 9, a new software release with a variety of enhancements to give users new ways to search and control their entertainment experience.

Roku will soon enable the ability to use Google Assistant devices to control Roku streaming devices. In addition, premium music services Spotify and Pandora Premium support are coming to Roku devices.

“As we broaden the Roku ecosystem, we are in a unique position,” said Ilya Asnis, SVP of Roku OS at Roku. “Our single operating system running across Roku TVs and Roku TV Wireless Speakers give us the ability to innovate how consumers experience audio and entertainment in their homes.”