Roku planning second-screen tablet app

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Streaming video provider Roku is currently testing a second-screen application for tablets that the company hopes to release in the "near term," according to a company executive.

Ed Lee, vice president of content acquisition for Roku, said the company is "thinking about the second screen quite a bit." He declined to provide specifics on the company's planned product, but said it would work on Roku owners' tablets and allow them to obtain additional information on the content they watch via their Roku device. For example, he said, the app could detect if a Roku user was watching HBO's "Game of Thrones" and then direct that user to HBO's second-screen application for that program, which offers details on the show's plot and characters.

"We're evaluating it right now," Lee said of the tablet application. "It's certainly coming in the near term."

Roku currently offers a smartphone application for iOS and Android devices that allows users to essentially use their smartphone as a remote control for their Roku box. The app also allows Roku owners to stream music and photos from their phones to their TVs via Roku. A second-screen tablet application from Roku would, in essence, be an acknowledgement by the company that TV viewers are increasingly turning to tablets for their entertainment needs.

In second-screen scenarios, iPads or Android tablets can be used to obtain additional content and information about a show a user is watching on their TV--for example, a second-screen app from Major League Baseball provides tablet users with the batting average and other statistics about players in a game that viewers are watching on a TV. Second-screen tablet usage could also focus around Twitter and Facebook--the social-networking platforms allow users to share commentary and observations about the programs they're watching on their TVs.

In comments here at the OTTCON show, Lee also offered insights into Roku's business strategy and future plans. He said Roku is starting to see an "uptick" in the number of content providers looking to levy a monthly subscription charge for their content. For example, NBA League Pass, Major League Soccer and Hulu Plus all charge Roku users a monthly fee to access their content. Lee said content providers are typically charging $3 to $4 per month for access to their premium content channels on Roku, and he said such scenarios could represent an opportunity for growth for Roku since the company likely would share in a portion of the revenues generated from such subscription payments.

Further, Lee said Roku is working on ways to make its service more personalized. He agreed that "content is king" but added that "context is queen," meaning that Roku's interface could be customized for each of its users in order to display content relevant to that user.

"That's something we're actively working on now," Lee said.

Special Report: OTTCON: Continuing coverage from Santa Clara

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