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January 18, 2019
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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

Roku tops 27M accounts & 24B hours streamed by end of 2018, announces more TV partners

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Ahead of its announcements of new TV partnerships at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Roku today shared some new numbers about the growing traction of its overall platform. The company said the number of active accounts grew 40 percent year-over-year in 2018, to top 27 million by year-end. In addition, its total streaming hours grew 61 percent year-over-year to 24 billion hours of movies, TV shows, sports and more being streamed across its devices.

In Q4 2018 alone, Roku users streamed an estimated 7.3 billion hours, up about 68 percent year-over-year.

Roku’s decision to release new numbers about active users and hours streamed comes at a time when the company itself is becoming more competitive with streaming services themselves, instead of just offering a platform on which their apps can run. In fall 2017 Roku began to aggregate the free content from the various channels across its platform in its own Roku Channel, then combined that with content it licensed directly from studios. This free, ad-supported content has given Roku a way to further grow its advertising revenues.

Since its launch, the channel has added more types of content, including sports, news and entertainment from both traditional and digital studios, and just last week launched its own set of premium subscriptions where it gets a cut of customers’ purchases.

Some analysts now believe The Roku Channel’s average revenue per user is now the fastest-growing contributor to overall revenue growth at Roku

Now Roku is working with more manufacturers to get its Roku OS – and therefore its Roku Channel – in front of more people.

At CES this week, Roku announced the Westinghouse Electronics was joining the Roku TV licensing program.

It also announced a partnership with TV brand TCL. The two companies will work together to make 8K TCL Roku TVs that will become available to consumers in late 2019. As a result of catering to TV makers, Roku said it’s updating its 4K and HDR hardware reference design to include far-field microphones for voice search and control. TCL will be the first to deliver these TV models in 2019.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Roku Channel adds premium subscriptions alongside its free content

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The Roku Channel — Roku’s home to free, ad-supported content like movies, TV, sports and news — is expanding to include subscriptions. Essentially Roku’s own take on Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, users can now opt to add some 25 premium video subscriptions within the Roku Channel, centralizing their access to streaming services in one destination that will become more personalized over time.

At launch, consumers will be able to opt to add-on subscriptions from premium networks including Showtime, Starz, EPIX, CuriosityStream, Noggin, Baeble Music, CollegeHumor’s Dropout, Hopster, Magnolia Selects, FitFusion, Smithsonian Channel Plus, Tastemade, Viewster Anime, The Great Courses Signature Collection, MHz Choice and others.

Offering a centralized place to subscribe to paid content is a fairly significant change for Roku’s platform, where, historically, viewers would download and add apps (“channels,” in Roku’s lingo) to their Roku homepage for each service they wanted to watch. Some of those channels require subscriptions, like Netflix and Hulu, while others offer free content.

Roku in fall 2017 began to aggregate the free content from the various channels across its platform in its own Roku Channel, and combined that with content it licensed directly from studios. The Roku Channel initially featured free, ad-supported movies, giving Roku a way to further grow its advertising revenues.

Over the past year, The Roku Channel expanded to include news, sports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks. This pushed the channel to become one of the top five most-watched across the Roku platform.

Now, instead of being only a home to free content, The Roku Channel is working with video partners to offer an alternative way to watch their programming.

“We’ve been focused on ad-supported content and will continue to have a very robust offering there. But there’s lots of great content that’s available only in subscription services,” explained Roku’s vice president of Programming, Rob Holmes, as to why Roku wanted to introduce paid subscriptions. “We also wanted to try to improve the user experience in a lot of the same way that we did with the launch of The Roku Channel around ad-supported content,” he said. 

When you enter The Roku Channel, you’ll be able to explore the premium subscription content before making a decision as to whether or not you want to sign up. That’s a better experience than offered by some subscription apps today, where you’re presented only with a splash screen that directs you to sign up to see the content or offer a very limited view of their programming.

If you choose to subscribe to a premium network via the Roku Channel, you can use the payment card that’s already on file with Roku. Basically, you click a button and then confirm the subscription (in case you clicked by accidentally sitting on the remote), and then you’re signed up.

This method makes it easier to add and remove subscriptions, for those who follow individual shows and want to turn their subscription on and off, timed with the release of new seasons.

The subscriptions also support seven-day free trials, trial expiration reminders and are billed together on a single statement from Roku monthly.

Also of note, when you subscribe to networks through the Roku Channel, you’ll no longer have to download the network’s standalone Roku app to watch. Instead, your subscriptions will get their own area inside The Roku Channel, making it more of a one-stop shop for your streaming services.

The networks will be shown both in The Roku Channel’s homepage and they’ll each get their own tab in the channel, too.

In fact, you currently cannot choose to watch in the network’s standalone Roku app, we understand. Over time, some networks will offer authentication for Roku Channel subscribers, but that’s not the case at launch.

Of course, this begs the question — if you can’t authenticate with the network provider, does that mean you won’t be able to watch the channel’s content, except on a Roku device?

As it turns out, you can.

Alongside the launch of channel subscriptions, The Roku Channel’s mobile app is being updated to support video playback. That means you can watch The Roku Channel content, including subscriptions, on your smartphone or tablet, as well as on the web and on your TV.

Over time, Roku’s plan is to better personalize your subscriptions and recommendations. That means the shows you actively watch will be presented in the front of the queue, and Roku will be able to recommend content across services, based on viewing behavior.

Roku says it will add more partners to The Roku Channel over time. However, many providers will not participate because they want to own the experience, end-to-end with their customers. They also may not want to share a cut of subscription revenue with Roku, as is required today to be promoted as a subscription add-on within The Roku Channel.

For the time being, Roku doesn’t plan on expanding from premium subscriptions to offer some sort of core package of subscription programming the way live TV services like Sling TV or YouTube TV now do.

“I think where we are today is really focused on these à la carte subscriptions,” Holmes said. “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.”

Support for subscriptions will begin to roll out to The Roku Channel starting later this month and will complete the phased rollout by early 2019. The new mobile app will launch in late January, as well.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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