Roku Rolls Voice Search

Roku, the maker of a platform for video streaming players and smart TVs, has rolled out a voice-based search feature for a new top-of-the-line Roku 3 model and its mobile applications, alongside other updates such as a “Roku Feed” that automatically keeps users apprised of the availability and pricing of new movies.  

Roku’s voice search capability can sift for content based on titles, actors, directors and other categories across a mix of 17 sources spanning ad-supported, subscription, electronic sell-through/rental,  and authenticated streaming offerings:  Acorn TV, Amazon Instant Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, Crackle, Fox Now, FX Now, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, M-GO, Nat Geo TV, Netflix, Popcornflix, Roku Recommends, SnagFilms, Time Warner Cable (the operator's authenticated TWC TV app), and VUDU.  

A new iteration of the $99.99 Roku 3 will come with a remote with a built-in microphone. Roku’s new app for iOS and Android mobile devices also supports the new voice search feature.  

By searching across such a wide group, the new voice-based search capability (which complements Roku’s text-based search), “presents an unbiased view of what consumers can watch, and where they can watch it,” Lloyd Clarke, director of product management at Roku, said.  

Roku, which has shipped more than 10 million devices in the U.S., has also added a way for users to search within the Roku Channel Store, which now features more than 2,000 channels/apps.  

A new Roku Feed is designed to help users “follow” movies that are still in theaters and alerts them when the flick becomes available through one of Roku’s streaming channels. Even after a new movie initially becomes available from a streaming source, the Roku Feed will keep it updated if the pricing changes or it becomes available from other OTT source.  

“Think of it as a search that keeps on searching,” Clarke said. While the initial version of Roku Feed focuses on “Movies Coming Soon,” “there’s a lot more we’re going to do with this [capability],” he added.  

Roku has begun to roll out the new features via a free platform update that will be delivered to players (models after 2011) and integrated Roku-powered smart TVs. Roku expects the deployment to be complete by the end of April. The new capabilities, including the Roku Feed, voice search and Channel Store search, are also supported in Roku’s new app release for iOS and Android.  

Roku today began rolling out the software update that delivers the new features to all current-generation* Roku players and Roku TV models. The roll out is expected to be completed by the end of April.   Among other updated, the company is also introducing an upgraded version of the Roku 2, which sells for $69.99 and is now based on the same system that powers the Roku 3, but comes with a more basic remote control.  Roku still sells the Roku 1, a model that includes composite cables for older TVs, and the HDMI-connected Roku Streaming Stick for $49.99 each.  

Roku is launching the new features and updates as competition in the streaming device sector continues to heat up. Amazon features voice-based search, albeit for a smaller number of OTT sources, for its Fire TV lineup. Apple, meanwhile, recently dropped the price of the Apple TV (from $99 to $69) ahead of its temporary exclusive on HBO Now, the premium programmer’s coming stand-alone OTT service.

Voice search, while still a differentiator of sorts, is expected to become table stakes soon enough for OTT players as well as MVPDs.  Among that latter group, Comcast, for example, is closing in on the launch of a new voice-capable remote, called the XR11, for its IP-capable X1 platform.