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Smart TVs Become the Apple of Roku’s Eye

LAS VEGAS — In a round of new out-of-the-box thinking that will help it keep a step ahead of Apple, Google and other rivals, Roku has pushed ahead with a plan to bake its popular video streaming and application platform directly inside the television.

TCL and Hisense, two large China-based consumer-electronics companies, are the first to announce integration deals for the new Roku TV platform. They will launch Roku-optimized TV models this fall, and had them on display here at their International CES booths, showing sets carrying both the manufacturer and Roku TV brands. Roku said its new built-in platform will be offered on TVs in sizes ranging from 32 inches to 55 inches.

LIBRARY IS OPEN

Roku, known for its line of streaming devices and an HDMI streaming stick, didn’t reveal the precise economics of the strategy, but confirmed that its TV-integration model is based on a mix of licenses and revenue sharing from content and services delivered via platform.

Roku said the integrated-TV platform will provide access to the same library of about 1,200 applications and channels that it offers via its family of discrete streaming devices. That lineup includes authenticated apps such as HBO GO, Watch ESPN, Watch Disney, A+E Networks apps for A&E, History and Lifetime, and Time Warner Cable’s TV Everywhere platform that streams in a mix of live TV channels and on-demand content.

The TV strategy should enable Roku to expand its platform as competition heats up with rivals such as Google (via its Android TV and Chromecast platforms) look to seal up direct deals with TV manufacturers.

It’ll also help Roku stay ahead of Apple TV and those persistent rumors that Apple is working on a TV of its own. Roku has sold about 8 million devices in the U.S.; it has not released shipment figures for Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Roku’s new approach will “give consumers one more good reason to connect their TVs to the Internet” and give pay TV providers more options to reach viewers, said Jonathan Weitz, partner at IBB Consulting, a Philadelphia-based company that counts cable operators and media companies among its clients.

It also gives TV makers another way to add a smart TV app platform without having to develop and manage one from scratch.

LG Electronics, Samsung and Panasonic have built their own smart TV ecosystems, so it’s no surprise that they are not on the initial list of Roku TV partners.

SET-MAKER PARTNERS

Roku, though, has existing relationships for several other TV manufacturers that are building or have built sets that are compatible with the Roku Streaming Stick.

Along with Hisense and TCL, which shipped 12 million and 9 million TVs in 2012, respectively, partners include Curtis, Element, Haier, Insignia (Best Buy’s CE brand), Oppo, Apex, Sceptre, and Polaroid.

The Roku TV platform is matched with a simplified, 20-button remote control, as well as an app that can control the interface via iOS- and Android-powered mobile devices. Roku TV has also built in DIAL (Discovery and Launch), a technology that enables users to stream video and other Web content from a mobile device to the TV.