Media streaming giant Roku is bringing its free, ad-supported TV channel to the UK, looking to offer comfortable familiar series beneath the sparring of subscription offerings like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+.
Roku made its name with internet-enabled, media streaming devices that upgraded TVs into smart TVs via their USB ports. It was the first such stick to bring Netflix to TV in 2008. Now the devices are home to around 1,000+ streaming channels, many are ad-funded, others carry a subscription. Those in the know can also use the hardware to access pirated channels. Joining them is the Roku Channel in the UK.
The channel makes available 10,000 shows and movies, for free, without login, and supported with ad breaks. After a test window in the US and Canada, its expansion betrays Roku's broadcasting ambitions.
Rob Holmes, vice president of programming at Roku, said: "There's increasing opportunity to subscribe to more and more services. We don't think they're going to keep layering more on. There's a roof to what people are willing to pay. On Roku, we have those services but people can now pick from our free content to supplement their overall viewing.
While much is said on the draw of premium content, Roku's looking to replicate the UK TV experience, but on demand. The likes of Homes Under the Hammer, The Commander, Ultimate Force, Fifth Gear, Skins and Britain’s Best Bakery have been heavily touted by the service, alongside movies like Get Carter, The Wicker Man and Les Miserables.
There's a curated kids section too. Classics like Bob the Builder, Teletubbies and Fireman Sam feature against kid influencers like Ryan’s World Specials. It is more visually-intuitive than standard Roku, designed for users that may not yet know how to read.
In the UK, it boasts more than 40 content partners, including All3Media International, EndemolShine Group, FilmRise, pocket.watch and DRG. It hopes to add more in the coming months. Holmes said: "It's not necessarily in the skillset of every content maker or producer to have the technical capabilities to create a great streaming experience."
Stocked by such partners, the channel will be granted pride of place on Roku software, helping to ease viewers in. But helping to expand its reach is a partnership to feature on the Sky and Now TV platforms. Disney+ recently penned such a deal, showing how important a platform Sky is for these channels.
The Roku Platform
Roku boasts more than 36m active accounts around the world. It is a major benefactor of consumers cutting ties with traditional pay-TV set-ups.
It added 9.8 million active users in 2019. The increase in use and attention on its platform is seeing it make strides in advertising. In the fourth quarter of 2019, Roku's revenue of $411m beat analyst expectations. Its monetized video advertising impressions more than doubled year-over-year.
In the UK, during a lockdown-inspired upsurge in TV and video streaming it is launching its first-party TV channel, which presents an opportunity for advertisers.
It claims a lower ad load than linear rivals, and the personalisation that digital TV offers, all bolstered by last year's acquisition of DataXu. "Frequency capping is one of the things that resonates most with users, overall, we're creating a really positive and favorable advertising experience."
Instead of pre-roll, the attempt is made to insert ad breaks (shorter than linear) in the natural pauses such shows had during their initial live run. "You see less in terms of total amount of advertising per hour. We also want to enable you to get right in," Holmes added.
He also positions his service as a means of capturing viewers and households that have slipped beyond the reach of linear TV. "They're just streaming only now. If you want to reach those users, you have to make sure to be available on streaming platforms."
Of course, connected TV has work to do around fraud and transparency that the tried and trusted means of TV don't necessarily fall to, however. Roku in particular, urges marketers to buy directly from it or trusted publishers on the platform, and not to trust the whims of the open exchanges.
What's true for advertisers, is also true for the content producers. They need to follow the eyes online.
Holmes concluded: "The 20s are going to be the decade of streaming, in terms of the time when they really make the transition."