- Roku, the maker of set-top streaming hardware, this month will update its mobile app to let viewers watch content from the Roku Channel, according to an announcement. The company also is expanding the channel, which premiered in 2017 as an ad-supported service, to offer premium subscriptions to more than 25 paid channels.
- Android and iOS device users for the first time will be able to use the Roku mobile app without a Roku device, giving them on-demand access to the Roku Channel anywhere in the United States. Roku users can start a video on a Roku player or Roku TV and pick up from where they left off while on the go, per the announcement.
- Showtime, Starz, Smithsonian Channel Plus and Tastemade are among the channels that will be available for paid subscriptions. The Roku Channel will continue to show free, ad-supported titles available without a subscription on a range of devices.
Roku's updates is set to expand the streaming platform's reach beyond viewers' living rooms to their mobile devices, while letting cord-cutters create a customized bundle of channels that include paid premium content. Also, by letting users access Roku with a set-top box, the company is looking not just at cord-cutters but at mobile-first (or mobile-only) video viewers. Smartphones were the dominant way to watch online video during Q2 2018 at 62%, up 9.8% from the second quarter last year, according to an Ooyala study.
Roku's service appears to resemble Amazon Prime Video Channels, which also lets subscribers pay for add-on video subscriptions with one-click purchases, CNet reported. The strategy appears similar to a service that Apple plans to offer. Apple's service would combine free original content with subscription channels inside its TV app that works on iPhones and iPads, per CNBC.
At the same time, Facebook also is looking to partner with HBO, Showtime and Starz to offer their programming to Facebook Watch users, Recode reported, while YouTube TV lets subscribers stream premium channels like Showtime, Starz and NBA League Pass for additional fees to its base price of $40 a month. While several platforms are looking to offer similar features as those of Amazon Prime Video, it's unclear how many of the service's subscribers have signed up for premium features, as Amazon doesn't disclose the details. About half of Starz's direct-to-consumer subscribers may come from Amazon, while Showtime and HBO get about one-third of viewers from the e-commerce giant, according to an estimate from BMO analyst Daniel Salmon cited by CNet.
Roku's updates may help the company resist growing competition from other streaming providers like Amazon, which currently offers more premium channels. HBO, Hulu and Netflix aren't available at the launch, meaning subscribers to those services will have to exit the Roku Channel to stream outside content. Subscribers who pay to watch premium services on the Roku Channel can't carry that subscription over to the channel's dedicated streaming app. That means a subscriber to Showtime, for example, will have to watch the channel within Roku's app, not Showtime's.