CES 2018: Roku’s Platform Reaches Beyond the TV

Roku is about to extend the reach of its platform beyond the TV and into many other corners of the home.

Ahead of next week’s CES in Las Vegas, Roku has introduced the Roku Whole Home Entertainment Licensing Program, an initiative that will integrate voice search and other entertainment features and capabilities into connected soundbars and smart speakers made by a variety of original equipment manufacturing (OEM) partners.

Read More: Complete coverage of #CES2018

With those additions, Roku’s new licensing program for OEM brands will include the following batch of options:

-Roku TV, the smart TV platform that is powered by the Roku operating system, will be integrated with Roku Connect and the new Roku Entertainment Assistant (see below for more detail about those programs) by the fall of 2018.

-A Smart Soundbar reference design for Roku TV makers and other OEM partners that taps into the Roku OS for voice control, content access and wireless audio streaming. While those Roku-designed soundbars will work with any TV with an HDMI ARC input, they are being designed to be optimized for Roku-powered devices, providing a simplified setup alongside the aforementioned integrated voice control.

- A Smart Speaker reference design. Similar to Roku’s work around soundbars, the design for smart speakers will also use the Roku OS for voice control, content access and wireless audio streaming. Roku is setting that up for single-room and multi-room audio set-ups and a way for those speakers to connect and integrate with Roku TVs and Roku streaming players.

-Roku Connect, a new program that enables OEM partners to build high-performance wireless speakers that connect to the Roku ecosystem and synchronize multi-room arrangements. Roku will offer that program for free to OEM partners and will underpin it with a logo program that identifies devices that are Roku Connect-compatible.

Tied in, the company is also developing the Roku Entertainment Assistant, a free software update for existing customers that will also be built into new products.

Roku doesn’t expect to generate much, if any, licensing revenue from speakers and soundbars. However, Roku does anticipate that the program will result in a “material increase in the frequency and intensity of the relationships we have with our customers,” Mark Ely, vice president of product management for players and whole home at Roku, explained.

“We believe that that consumers want a very simple, easy to set up and easy to enjoy home entertainment network,” Ely said. “We fundamentally envision a broader Roku ecosystem where TV is the center of the home entertainment experience, but from your TV you can easily connect a smart sound bar to add better sound, wirelessly add surround sound speakers to create a full, immersive multichannel experience."

The new whole-home entertainment strategy should also help Roku broaden the presence and influence of its underlying platform and operating system, and enable it to keep the heat on rival video streaming and connected home competitors such as Apple, Google and Amazon.

Roku expects the Roku Entertainment Assistant as well as the first batch of devices linked to the new licensing program to appear by the fall of 2018.

Roku’s move into the smart speaker market has been speculated for months, and was amplified last November when Roku confirmed the acquisition of Dynastrom, a startup based in Denmark that specializes in high-quality multi-room audio.

RELATED: Roku Snapped Up Audio Streaming Startup Dynastrom

Roku noted that TCL, its “lead OEM partner,” will announce plans to offer the first device under the new licensing program at a January 8 press conference at CES.

Roku also has integrated TV deals in place with several companies, including RCA, Element Electronics, Hitachi America, Sharp, Insignia (Best Buy’s in-house brand), Hisense, and Funai Electric.

A new 40-inch Roku TV model carrying the Philips brand comes way of Roku’s deal with Funai, which today announced that it will also extend its Roku TV licensing agreement to include the Magnavox brand. HD Magnavox Roku TV models are expected to be available from select U.S. retailers this spring.

Roku launched its TV licensing program at the 2014 CES. License fees from TV makers are tied into a fast-growing Platforms division at Roku that also includes advertising and subscription revenue sharing.

RELATED: Roku Shares Surge on Q3 Results