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March 21, 2019
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Roku on track for $1 billion in revenue in 2019

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Roku plans to be a billion-dollar company in 2019, the company said on Thursday as part of its announcement of strong earnings. The company beat analyst estimates and reported strong growth in active users and streaming hours with earnings of $0.05 per share, compared with the $0.03 analysts had estimated, and revenues of $276 million, compared with the expected $262 million.

Roku also reported 40 percent year-over-year active user growth, with 27.1 million active users by year-end, and a 69 percent year-over-year increase in streaming hours, which reached 7.3 billion.

The company said it plans this year to invest in international expansion, its ad-supported service The Roku Channel, advertising, and its Roku TV platform.

While cord cutting is driving some of Roku’s growth, only around half of Roku’s customers fit this description, CEO Anthony Wood pointed out. The other half are more like “cord shavers” – those who are still pay TV subscribers, but are shifting more of their TV viewing to streaming services.

Roku’s ability to also attract pay TV customers combined with the fact that 1 in four smart TVs sold in the U.S. now runs its software, is helping the company’s market share grow.

Roku estimates that 1 in 5 U.S. TV households now uses the Roku platform for at least a portion of their TV viewing. In the year ahead, Roku aims to better capitalize on its traction by increasing the monetization per user and scaling the number of households using Roku.

In addition, the company sees a big opportunity in international.

“International is one of the top four areas we’re investing in,” Wood noted.

“Roku has more than 27 million active accounts globally today. Most of those are in the United States. But we believe many of the assets we built for the U.S. market will help us expand into other markets. And clearly streaming is a global opportunity with one billion households worldwide,” he said.

The company begin investing more substantially in international in 2018, and has now reached 20 countries. It has added more local content and is expanding its relationships with international resellers, said Wood. “We think you’ll start to see the results of this increased investment bearing fruit in 2020,” he added.

Roku also has high hopes for The Roku Channel.

The channel is now one of the top five most popular on the platform and grew from around 1,000 free movies and TV episodes in 2017 to now around 10,000. Last year, it added more streaming partners like ABC, Cheddar and People TV and even expanded into subscriptions, with add-ons like Showtime, Starz, and Epix.

The company believes the channel will continue to become a main destination on its platform, which helps Roku to monetize through advertising and its cut of subscription revenue, when customer opt to add on extra packages. But today the channel is still lacking many of the major subscription services, compared with the more robust lineup offered by Amazon Channels. For example, HBO is not offered through The Roku Channel today, nor is CBS All Access.

However, the company believes its financial performance will improve this year – reaching the billion in revenue mark, with platform revenues accounting for two-thirds of that. This, in part, will be due to growing its installed base and extracting more revenue from each customer, including through The Roku Channel.

It’s worth noting that Roku recently made it possible to stream from The Roku Channel directly on mobile devices, which will likely play a role here.

Roku has been growing at a rapid pace alongside the larger cord cutting and streaming TV trend.

In the past three years, it increased active accounts by 4 million, 6 million and then nearly 8 million, respectively, it said. And it quadrupled the size of its platform revenue from just over $100 million in 2016 to over $400 million in 2018. In the U.S., its active account base of 27+ million would make it equivalent to the No. 2 traditional pay TV provider.

In addition to international expansions in 2019 and investments in The Roku Channel, Roku aims to increase its Roku TV market share, and roll out new ad products in areas like marketplace, programmatic, and self-serve.

Roku’s investments in its platform led to 77 percent year-over-year growth to reach 151.4 million in revenue in Q4. But the player business is still growing too – 21 percent year-over-year to reach 124.3 million in revenue, Roku said.

However, a lot will changing in the streaming landscape this year, as new offerings from AT&T (WarnerMedia streaming service), Apple, Disney, Viacom (which just bought Pluto TV), and NBC hit the market.

But Roku believes it will weather these changes, too.

“I founded this company on the belief that all television was going to be streamed,” Wood told investors. “And it wasn’t that many years ago when there was no streaming, and then the only streaming was Netflix. It took a long time for the incumbents to embrace streaming. But they have. And that’s very gratifying to see every major media company in the world developing streaming strategies, which is great — it’s great for us, because we’re the leading streaming platform,” he said.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Roku’s à la carte premium subscriptions arrive today, but without HBO

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Earlier this month, Roku announced it would soon begin selling subscriptions to premium video services directly from its own TV and movies hub, The Roku Channel. Today, those subscriptions are going live, allowing Roku users to sign up for channels like EPIX, Showtime, STARZ, and others, then stream them without needing to install the channel’s own app on their Roku device.

Instead, all the content from the add-ons will be found in The Roku Channel section itself, alongside the other free and ad-supported TV shows, movies, news, sports, and entertainment programming already offered. However, the premium channels will have their own area inside The Roku Channel, including a spot on the homepage, as well as their own dedicated tabs, the company earlier said.

In time, Roku hopes to leverage the data from users’ unique blend of subscriptions to better personalize its recommendations.

A number of companies today offer the ability to watch premium programming through add-ons subscriptions, but fewer allow you to do so à la carte – that is, most require you to subscribe to a core TV package first before adding on extras. Amazon’s Prime Video Channels is probably the best known of the à la carte providers, though Sling TV rolled out a selection of premium a la carte channels last year.

Roku doesn’t plan to offer its own “skinny bundle” base package of streaming TV content at this time, the company recently told TechCrunch.

“I think where we are today is really focused on these à la carte subscriptions,” said Roku’s vice president of Programming, Rob Holmes. “Ultimately, from a user standpoint, there’s a lot of value in being able to pick and choose exactly what you want to sign up for — without having to sign up for one of these base packages to start with. That’s how we think about it today.”

Once subscribed to one of Roku’s premium selections, customers will only be able to watch the content through The Roku Channel itself. In addition to the revenue split on these add-ons, this benefits Roku because it puts attractive premium content right next to Roku’s ad-supported fare of some 10,000+ free movies and TV episodes. When customers are in search of something to watch next, it will be easy for them to just browse within the section they’re already in.

Plus, Roku says add-ons subscribers won’t even be able to use the premium networks’ own apps at launch, which keeps them further isolated in Roku’s own universe.

In order for customers to watch the premium content outside of Roku devices, like Roku TVs or media players, they’ll need to install the free Roku mobile app. The updated version of the iOS app is arriving today, and the Android update will be available in mid-February, the company says.

The selection of premium networks at launch includes: STARZ, Showtime, EPIX, plus Baeble Music; CollegeHumor’s DROPOUT; CuriosityStream; Fandor Spotlight; FitFusion; The Great Courses Signature Collection; Grokker; Hi-YAH!; Hopster; Lifetime Movie Club; DOX, LOLFlicks, Monsters and Nightmares, Magnolia Selects, and Warriors & Gangsters presented by Magnolia Pictures; MHz Choice; NOGGIN; Shout! Factory TV, Smithsonian Channel Plus; Stingray Karaoke; Tastemade; Viewster Anime; and ZooMoo.

Notably missing from the lineup is HBO, which offers its own over-the-top streaming service, HBO NOW, and has deals with a number of à la carte and streaming TV providers.

Roku says the Premium Subscriptions feature will become available on select Roku devices in the U.S. today. They offer a 30-day trial period, and are paid for using the payment info you have on file with Roku’s own billing system.

All supported devices should receive the update in the coming weeks, starting with Roku players and then Roku TVs. To see if your device has been updated, look for a new row called “Browse Premium Subscriptions” below the Featured row in The Roku Channel.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Roku explains why it allowed Infowars on its platform

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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.

UPDATE, 1/15/19, 2:43 PM ET: 

Following Roku’s statement about its decision, Josh Koskoff, the Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder attorney representing several Sandy Hook families suing Jones after his repeated claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, has released a statement as well:

Roku’s shocking decision to carry Infowars and provide a platform for Alex Jones is an insult to the memory of the 26 children and educators killed at Sandy Hook. Worse, it interferes with families’ efforts to prevent people like Jones from profiting off innocent victims whose lives have been turned upside down by unspeakable loss. We call on Roku to realize this and immediately pull the program. Until then, the families will be switching to alternate streaming providers that know the difference between authentic – if provocative – opinions and a lying opportunist seeking to make money by any means possible. There is no amount of anticipated revenue that could possibly justify Roku’s calculated decision.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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

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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 over 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 over 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 a lure to attract customers to various platforms in the streaming video market and beyond. Amazon offers a ton of free video, including originals, to Prime subscribers 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 you’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.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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

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VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filling one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as it has 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 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 also are plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eyeing PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by nonprofit parent VideonLAN, racked up its three 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 École Centrale Paris students in 1996.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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