Roku Launches its Own Free, Ad-Based Streaming Channel

Roku is expanding its scope with the launch of a new free, ad-based streaming channel that features “hundreds” of movie titles coming way of content partners that include Fandor, FilmRise, and Popcornflix, among others.

The new curated offering, called The Roku Channel, will be offered across Roku’s lineup of streaming players and integrated Roku TVs in the coming weeks, and won’t require users to log in to access its new streaming channel.

That new channel complements an array of other individual free, advertising based VOD apps and services offered on Roku’s platform, such as Tubi TV, Crackle and Popcornflix. It’s also not the first curated channel from Roku, as the new offering follows the fall of 2015 debut of a 4K-focused content showcase (called 4K Ultra HD Spotlight) that came about as Roku introduced its first 4K-capable streaming device, the Roku 4.

Roku’s new channel is launching as the company accelerates its activity around free content.

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“Our users really have a strong desire for it,” Rob Holmes, Roku’s vice president of programming, said regarding free, ad-supported content. “There’s a lot of talk about SVOD…but we see free as a critical driver for the next wave of growth.”

Getting more ad revenue from its platform is expected to play a more significant role in Roku’s business in the years ahead. In an S-1 filed late last week, the company said the majority of hours streamed on its platform is of subscription VOD content, but “in order to materially increase the monetization of our platform through the sale of advertising-supported video, we will need our users to stream significantly more ad-supported content.”

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Holmes said The Roku Channel is also aiming to “set a benchmark for the ad experience on the platform,” noting that this will include a special focus on reduced ad frequency and an ad-load that will be about half of what’s on traditional TV today, on average.  

Holmes, a former Comcast advanced ad exec who joined Roku earlier this year, said Roku is also believes that the new channel will give users an easy path into free content on the platform and help them to discover other free, ad-based apps that are offered on Roku.

"It’s a great opportunity for existing partners to make their most popular content front and center for Roku users,” Holmes said, adding that Roku will take on ad sales for the new channel.

Other announced publishing partners for The Roku Channel include American Classics, Nosey, OVGuide, Vidmark, and YuYu, with others to come. Out of the chute, the offering will feature titles from studios such as Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers, and films that include Ali, The Karate Kid, and Legally Blonde. The channel will also expand into other types of content, including TV series.

Roku supports a lineup of more than 5,000 streaming channels. Per its channel store, top free channels on Roku’s platform include YouTube, Pandora, CBS News, NBC News, PBS Kids, AOL On News, ABC New, Tubi TV, Pluto TV, Crackle, PBS, Newsy, WeatherNation and Fox News.

More about The Roku Channel and the strategy behind it will be features in the Platform section of the September 11 edition of Broadcasting & Cable.