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Next TV Summit: Roku's Wood: The ‘Platform’ Provides the Competitive Edge

SAN FRANCISCO – As new over-the-top video players and products join the scene and competition comes from a variety of angles, Roku CEO Anthony Wood believes his company’s focus on its underlying “platform” will help the company maintain its edge and growth prospects.

“The platform is a big focus for us,” Wood said here at the Multichannel News/Broadcasting & Cable Next TV Summit during a keynote interview with B&C contributing editor George Winslow.

Roku, he said, has built an ecosystem that now delivers more than 1,000 “channels,” or apps,  and represents the kind of approach that will be hard for many to replicate. It will be difficult, he said, for many others to jump into the market and rapidly build out a critical base of apps. Roku streamed more than 1 billion hours of content last year, and is on pace for a much bigger total this year, Wood said.

While Roku’s aware of the competition that new platforms, such as Google’s Chromecast, present to Roku, it also has helped to bump Roku sales in the early going because the buzz around these new products introduce more consumers to video streaming.

Roku sales “popped up”  following the Chromecast launch, Wood said. “Anything that brings attention to the category helps us.”

Roku, meanwhile, will be offering a feature that currently graces the Chromecast. Wood said Roku plans to add the DIAL (Discovery and Launch) protocol to its platform, which will allow users to send content and control the device via a smartphone.

Wood said he views Google as becoming Roku’s “biggest competitor” in the months and years ahead, and not just because of the Chromecast’s initial $35 price point and the fact that it’s made by Google. Competition will become more heated, he said, as Google looks to build its platform into televisions and other connected devices. “We don’t expect those types of devices to be in the market long as a stand-alone,” Wood said.

TV integration is also a market that Roku is likewise pursuing to help drive growth, starting with the Roku Streaming Stick and, later, by stitching the Roku platform inside the TVs themselves. Roku hasn’t announced any deals involving the latter strategy, but the company is “working behind the scenes” to make that happen, Wood said.  “We think we are well ahead of Google in terms of licensing.”

Wood was also asked about the budding cord-cutting trend. Wood said Roku data has shown that authenticated content from programmers and operators “dramatically increase” customer satisfaction with their pay-TV service. After starting off with authenticated apps from the likes of HBO and EPIX, Wood said he’s now seeing interest from every major programmer in developing similar apps for the Roku.

He also thinks operators would be better served by integrating their services as apps on his platform, versus trying to curate apps on their own set-top box platforms.